Wednesday, June 07, 2023
Karim Benzema, the Ballon d'Or winner from Real Madrid, has officially signed a three-year contract with Saudi Arabian club Al-Ittihad, as confirmed by the Jeddah-based team on Tuesday.
The club enthusiastically welcomed the arrival of the French striker on Twitter, stating, "Benzema is here. A new tiger will roar. Welcome to Ittihad!"
Benzema will be reuniting with his former Real Madrid teammate, Cristiano Ronaldo, in the Gulf Kingdom. Ronaldo, a five-time world player of the Year, made the move to Al Nassr from Manchester United after last year's World Cup. Additionally, rumours have linked Lionel Messi, who recently departed Paris Saint-Germain, to a potential move to Saudi Arabia.
Senior officials from another Saudi Arabian club, Al Hilal, have travelled to France with the intention of finalising a deal for Messi. Two sources familiar with the matter informed AFP that the Saudi delegation plans to meet with Messi's father and agent, Jorge Messi, in order to expedite the signing process.
The announcement of Benzema's transfer follows Real Madrid's statement that the 35-year-old striker would be leaving the club after spending 14 seasons with the Spanish powerhouse. This decision came just a day after coach Carlo Ancelotti had assured the public that there was no doubt about Benzema's future in the Spanish capital.
Benzema, who joined Real Madrid from Lyon in 2009, has made a significant impact during his tenure at the club. With 648 appearances and 354 goals, he ranks second on Real Madrid's all-time leading goalscorers list, with only Ronaldo surpassing him. Benzema has won numerous titles with the club, including five Champions Leagues, four La Liga titles, and three Copas del Rey.
Although the 2021-22 season was exceptional for Benzema, with Champions League success and the prestigious Ballon d'Or award, the following season was plagued by injuries, leading him to miss the French national team's World Cup campaign due to a thigh problem.
In a farewell ceremony at Real Madrid's training ground, Benzema expressed his emotions, stating that it was painful to leave because he had always envisioned signing for Madrid and retiring there. However, he acknowledged that life sometimes presents unexpected opportunities.
Saudi Arabia has demonstrated its ambition to attract top football talent, reportedly compiling a list of more than 10 players who have won either the Champions League or the World Cup. The list includes Luka Modric from Real Madrid and Croatia, Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, and N'Golo Kante from France. The country's aspirations extend beyond football, as it aims to host the World Cup in either 2030 or 2034 and utilises sports to reshape its international image. However, critics argue that such endeavours amount to "sportswashing" and divert attention from human rights concerns.