By: Gyang Dakwo
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 on Tuesday, 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 teammates and, together with them, helping 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 Portugal forward signed a 2-1/2 year contract estimated by media to be worth more than 200 million euros ($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 for Juventus in 2018, winning the Champions League five times and the LaLiga title four times.
The 35-year-old won the Ballon d’Or award for the best men’s player in the world last year and he looked set to stay at the Spanish club for one more year, after a 2022-23 season in which he struggled with injuries and missed out on France’s World Cup squad in Qatar.
However, an offer estimated by media to be worth more than 100 million 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 at Real Madrid.