Karim Benzema, another Ballon d'Or winner in Saudi Arabia

At 35, Karim Benzema leaves to find in this country his former partner of Real Madrid Cristiano Ronaldo. Benzema signed for three seasons at Al-Ittihad.

Karim Benzema reached the 236 goals scored in the Spanish league against Almería, Saturday, April 29, 2023. © AFP / THOMAS COEX

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Benzema has signed a three-year contract for his transfer to Al-Ittihad. "learned AFP Tuesday, June 6 from a source inside this club based in Jeddah, on the shores of the Red Sea (west). The resounding arrival of the former Lyonnais, for an amount still undisclosed but staggering, is part of the great Saudi offensive targeting the stars of European football. In recent days, a contract of 200 million euros for two seasons had been mentioned by the Spanish press.

Second top scorer in Real Madrid's history

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.

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.

The "Nueve" will continue its 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 oldest one, founded in 1927.

Soon other stars?

Like Ronaldo at Al-Nassr, Benzema will be the overwhelming star of a squad that includes Egyptian internationals Ahmed Hegazy and Angolan Helder Costa, coached by former FC Porto or Tottenham manager Nuno Espirito Santo of Portugal.

Benzema could see other stars of European football arrive in the coming weeks. The kingdom of the Arabian Peninsula, criticized for human rights abuses, is determined to use football to improve its international image, and it has petrodollars galore to satisfy its ambitions.

A list of "more than ten" football stars has been drawn up for recruitment by Saudi clubs including Lionel Messi and Luka Modric.

With AFP

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