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.
Mr. 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.
Mr. Benzema follows his former Real team mate Cristiano Ronaldo to the Gulf country after the Portugal forward signed a 2-1/2 year contract estimated by media to be worth more than €200 million ($213.78 million) with Al Nassr in December.
Having joined Real in 2009 from Olympique Lyonnais, Mr. 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.
Early in 2021 he earned a recall from France manager Didier Deschamps to the national team for the first time in six years, after falling out of favor due to his alleged involvement in the Mathieu Valbuena sex tape scandal.
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 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. — Reuters