The 32-year-old defensive midfielder has signed a contract "for three years" with the club based in Jeddah (west), AFP learned Wednesday from an internal source at the club who wished to remain anonymous.

After seven years in London, Kante had a complicated final season due to multiple injuries and seems to be on the decline.

With this transfer to Saudi Arabia, in a minor league, the future in the France team of the man with 53 caps, a framework of the Blues during the World Cup-2018, also seems very compromised.

Kante has played very little in the 2022-2023 season: only nine matches, including seven Premier League games and two Champions League matches.

For his last game with Chelsea, against Bournemouth (3-1) in May, he made an assist.

Kante in the desert

After that encounter, just over a month after returning to official competition against Aston Villa in the Premier League, N'Golo Kante felt pain in an adductor and missed the last four games of the championship.

French international midfielder N'Golo Kanté during a Champions League match between his Chelsea team and Real Madrid, on April 12, 2023 at the Siantago Bernabéu © stadium JAVIER SORIANO / AFP/Archives

The native of Reuil-Malmaison, near Paris, lived last season a crossing of the desert, away from the field for more than six months because of a hamstring injury, then an adductor.

Because of his repeated physical glitches, the pillar of the Blues has declared forfeit for the World Cup in Qatar and has not been recalled by Didier Deschamps in the France team for a year, on June 3, 2022 against Denmark.

"The club has required a full medical examination," the club's internal source said on Wednesday on condition of anonymity, without specifying the details of the contract.

According to several media reports, the salary of the winner of the Premier League in 2017 and the Champions League in 2021 could reach 100 million euros per year.

The Gulf monarchy, criticized for human rights abuses, has recruited several renowned players for its national league, with a record of no real relief.

This new arrival in Saudi Arabia echoes the more resounding one on Tuesday. French striker Karim Benzema, Ballon d'Or 2022 at the end of his contract with Real Madrid, has signed for three years for a still undisclosed but staggering amount in the same Saudi club, on the shores of the Red Sea. A contract of 200 million has been mentioned by the Spanish press for the player to five titles in the Champions League.

Saudi ambitions

The first notable signing was Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, who joined Al-Nassr in January for more than €400 million.

The name of N'Golo Kanté had already circulated at that time to join the former Ballon d'Or at the club of Ryad.

"NG" will continue his journey started in Caen and Leicester with the fresh champions of Saudi Arabia. The yellow and black "Tigers" of Jeddah are the second most successful club in the country, nine-time champions (like Al-Nassr) and winners of two Asian Champions Leagues (Al-Nassr never won it) in 2004 and 2005, and also the dean, founded in 1927.

N'Golo Kanté and Karim Benzema will be the stars of a squad that includes Egyptian internationals Ahmed Hegazy and Angolan Helder Costa, coached by former FC Porto or Tottenham manager, Portuguese Nuno Espirito Santo.

The match between Al-Ittihad (Union, in English) and Al-Hilal Ryad, the club that courts Argentine Lionel Messi, is the "clasico" of the local championship.

Other prestigious teammates could arrive, as the kingdom is determined to use football to improve its international image and has petrodollars galore to satisfy its ambitions.

© 2023 AFP