Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema signs for Saudi Arabian team Al-Ittihad after leaving Real Madrid

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French striker Karim Benzema has signed with Saudi Arabian team Al-Ittihad on an initial three-year deal, the club announced on Tuesday.

Benzema played his final game for Real Madrid on Sunday having spent 14 years with the Spanish giant, winning the men’s Ballon d’Or in 2022 – the award recognizing the best player in world football over the course of a year.

Al-Ittihad won the Saudi Pro League (SPL) this season under the stewardship of one-time Tottenham Hotspur manager Nuno Espirito Santo and offered Benzema a deal reportedly worth more than $100 million.

The club’s official Twitter account posted a video of the French forward with the caption: “Benzema is here. A new tiger will roar. Welcome to Ittihad.”

The SPL shared a statement on the signing, reading: “Benzema’s arrival is the most impactful transfer in the club’s history to date.

“It also marks another huge step in the Saudi Pro League’s journey to become one of football’s leading destinations for the world’s very best after its biggest season to date.”

Benzema, seen holding up Al-Ittihad’s black and yellow striped shirt in Tuesday’s press release, is quoted in the league’s statement, saying: “I am excited to experience a new football league in a different country. Al-Ittihad Club has an amazing history, incredibly passionate fans and big ambitions in football to be a force in Asia after winning the league.

“I have been fortunate to achieve amazing things in my career and achieve everything I can in Spain and Europe. It now feels the time is right for a new challenge and project.”

Reuniting with Ronaldo

Benzema also expressed joy at joining a league which already contains his former Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo.

“It’s a good league and there are many good players,” the 35-year-old said. “Cristiano Ronaldo is already there, a friend [who] shows Saudi Arabia is starting to further progress its level. I am here to win, like I did in Europe.”

Al-Ittihad’s president Anmar Bin Abdullah Alhailael said: “To sign the current Ballon d’Or holder from Real Madrid is another historic milestone for this special club. Karim is a global football icon, he’s box office and very much at the top of his powers.”

Benzema joined Real Madrid from Lyon in 2009, aged 21. He won 25 trophies with the club, making 648 appearances and scoring 354 goals – the second most in its history. His five Champions League titles tie for the most in history for an individual player.

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