MADRID: Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema will leave Real Madrid as a free agent in the close season after 14 trophy-laden years, the La Liga club said on Sunday, with the striker set to move to Saudi Arabian side Al Ittihad.
The 35-year-old forward has been heavily linked this week with a lucrative move to Saudi Arabia and Saudi state television channel Al-Ekhbariya reported Sunday that he had signed with Jeddah-based Al-Ittihad.
“Real Madrid and our captain Karim Benzema have agreed to put an end to his brilliant and unforgettable era as a player at our club,” said Los Blancos in a statement.
“Madrid want to show their gratitude and all their love to someone who is one of our greatest legends.”
The announcement comes after Real coach Carlo Ancelotti had said Saturday there was “no doubt” about Benzema’s future being at Real, noting the forward had one more year left on his contract.
And Benzema himself had said “not everything you read on the internet is reality” after reports emerged in the week about his potential departure to Saudi Arabia, where his former Real team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo is playing for Al Nassr.
According to Al-Ekhbariya, however, the president of Saudi champions Al-Ittihad and his deputy were in Madrid “to officially sign” Benzema in a “record transfer with Real Madrid”.
The TV channel said Benzema had agreed a two-year deal with the club, based on the Red Sea shores of the Gulf kingdom.
The French forward joined Madrid in 2009 from Ligue 1 side Olympique Lyonnais.
Benzema established himself as a key player alongside Ronaldo and Gareth Bale in the vaunted “BBC” attacking trident, before developing into the team’s leader when the Portuguese striker left in 2018.
Benzema has lifted five Champions Leagues, four La Liga titles and three Copas del Rey with Real and is the current holder of the Ballon d’Or for the world’s best player.
He is Real Madrid’s second top scorer of all-time, with 353 goals for Madrid, behind only Ronaldo on 450.
Benzema’s final appearance for the club could be later Sunday when Madrid host Athletic Bilbao in La Liga at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Real confirmed Saturday that Eden Hazard, Marco Asensio and Mariano Diaz are all leaving this summer too, leaving plenty of space for new acquisitions in attack.
Ancelotti avoided talking on Saturday about Madrid’s alleged interest in England and Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane.
Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2023