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Jan 7, 2011

McManaman: Benzema must step up

Former Real Madrid winger Steve McManaman has urged current Merengues striker Karim Benzema to step up to the plate and insisted that the Frenchman is capable of being a key player at the Bernabeu.

• Real progress despite defeat
• Blog; Higuain season ends, Kaka's begins
• Wednesday's Copa del Rey round-up

Benzema, 23, has endured a profligate season with Real in La Liga, netting just one goal despite playing more regularly since Gonzalo Higuain got injured in November.

But Benzema has shown glimpses of his goalscoring touch with hat-tricks in the Champions League and Copa del Rey and McManaman, who twice won the European Cup with Real in his four-year stay in Spain, is confident that Benzema has what it takes - and urged him to show it.

"Karim has struggled to settle in," McManaman told ESPNsoccernet. "His language has been a problem and he's quite shy, which can be difficult for him in a dressing-room full of big characters.

"He had problems in pre-season but Mourinho is trying to get the best out of him and we must remember he is still a young lad.

"He has to stand up and be counted now because Higuain is out for a while and Kaka has only just come back. But everyone knows he is a good player and I think Real will rely on Benzema to produce the goods this year."

McManaman admits he has been impressed with the progress Real have made since Jose Mourinho took over last year, and the former Liverpool star is confident that the 5-0 Clasico demolition by Barcelona was merely a blip.

"I think the first season under Mourinho has been great," McManaman said. "Apart from that absolute hammering by Barcelona, his record has been incredible. "They don't get beaten, they win every game but they just came across a Barcelona team who were seemingly just on another planet.

"They are only a couple of points behind and they still have to play them at home, so no matter what you say about Mourinho he has his teams organised, they dig in and they get results."

And McManaman revealed he still has a close affiliation to Real, where he also won two La Liga titles, the UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup.

"I still go over there," McManaman said. "I was at the Bernabeu for the Champions League final last year and played in an exhibition match the following week against AC Milan.

"I still speak to everyone at the club and still get a Christmas card, that's what you get for being an ex-player!"

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