Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema became the latest big-name player to head to Saudi Arabia as he joined Al Ittihad as a free agent, the club said yesterday, after the French striker’s departure from Real Madrid.
Benzema, who ended a trophy-laden 14 years at Real this week, joins the Saudi Arabian champions on a three-year deal and will wear the number nine shirt. “I am excited to experience a new football league in a different country. I have been fortunate to achieve amazing things in my career and achieve everything I can in Spain and Europe,” Benzema said.
“It now feels the time is right for a new challenge and project ... I am looking forward to joining my new team mates and, together with them, help take this amazing club and the game in Saudi Arabia to new levels.”
Benzema follows his former Real team mate Cristiano Ronaldo to the Gulf country after the Portugal forward signed a two-and-a-half year contract estimated by media to be worth more than $213.78 million with Al Nassr in December.
Having joined Real in 2009 from Olympique Lyonnais, Benzema became the spearhead of the club’s attack after Ronaldo left to Juventus in 2018, winning the Champions League five times and the LaLiga title four times.
He had his best season with Real in the 2021-22 campaign when he scored 44 goals in all competitions to lead the club to a record-extending 14th European title as well as the LaLiga crown.
An offer estimated by media to be worth more than $109.4m euros from Saudi Arabia made him rethink his decision to stay in Spain for a final season, with the striker deciding to void the one-year extension clause he had in his contract.
Al Ittihad last month clinched the Saudi Pro League title for the first time since 2009.