Europe 1 with AFP / Photo credit: Alvaro Medranda / NurPhoto / NurPhoto via AFP 21:51 p.m., June 06, 2023

After the announcement of his departure from Real Madrid, Karim Benzema must fly to Saudi Arabia to join the local league where he has committed for three years to Al-Ittihad. He joins Cristiano Ronaldo who plays at Al-Nassr and will be one of the attractions of the country.

A new Ballon d'Or in Saudi Arabia. At 35, Karim Benzema leaves to find in this country his former partner of Real Madrid Cristiano Ronaldo, perhaps waiting for the arrival of Lionel Messi: the Frenchman has signed for three seasons at Al-Ittihad. "The arrival of Benzema (...) is another giant step in the project of the Saudi Pro League to become a major destination for the best players in the world," the club said in a statement formalizing the signing of the contract.

This resounding arrival, for an amount still undisclosed but staggering, is part of the great Saudi offensive targeting the stars of European football. Eventually, all the Ballon d'Or since 2008 could end up in the Saudi championship. Luka Modric (Ballon d'Or 2018), is indeed on the list of aging football stars targeted by the kingdom, as is Lionel Messi (seven-time Ballon d'Or), who officially left Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday.

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"A slightly sad day"

After 14 years of conquests at Real Madrid, where he won five Champions Leagues, the French international (97 caps, 37 goals) opted for an end of career in the wealthy Saudi Pro League supported by the Saudi Sovereign Fund (FIS), which relies in particular on "soft power", geopolitical influence, through sport.

"It's a bit of a sad day, because I'm going to leave this club, and it hurts me. I had a dream, it was to sign for Real, and to finish my career at Real. But sometimes life gives you other opportunities," the former France international said at his farewell ceremony in Madrid on Tuesday afternoon. In recent days, a contract of 200 million euros for two seasons had been mentioned by the Spanish press. The Frenchman finally signed for three years.

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Champion club

The second top scorer in Real Madrid's history, with 354 goals, behind CR7 (450 goals), and the fifth most capped player with 648 matches played, left the Spanish club like a prince, hailed by the Santiago-Bernabeu stadium, his teammates, his coach and his managers. "Karim Benzema's career at Real Madrid has been an example of behaviour and professionalism, and has represented the values of our club. Karim Benzema has earned the right to decide his future," Real said, hinting that Benzema had chosen not to extend his contract.

A tribute is to be paid to him in Madrid this Tuesday noon. The "Nueve" will continue his journey started in Lyon 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, Ronaldo's team) and winners of two Asian Champions Leagues (Al-Nassr never won it), and also the dean, founded in 1927. The match between Al-Ittihad (Union, in English) and Al-Hilal Riyadh, the club that courts Lionel Messi, is the "clasico" of the local championship.