French star Karim Benzema sings for Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad

Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema signed a three-year deal with Al-Ittihad, the Jeddah-based club confirmed on Tuesday. Ballon d’Or winner Benzema will join Cristiano Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia. Benzema is here. A new tiger will roar. Welcome to Ittihad, the club wrote on Twitter. The Frenchman will join his former Real Madrid teammate Ronaldo in the Gulf kingdom after the five-time world player of the Year moved to Al Nassr from Manchester United following last year’s World Cup.

Another GOAT in football, Lionel Messi has also been linked with a move to Saudi Arabia as his two-year deal with Paris Saint-Germain is over.

The announcement regarding Benzema came days after Real Madrid said that the 35-year-old French striker was leaving the club after 14 seasons. Earlier, Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti had insisted there was “no doubt” Benzema’s future was in the Spanish capital. Benzema joined Madrid in 2009 from Ligue 1 side Lyon.

The Frenchman made 648 appearances for Madrid and is second on Real’s all-time goalscoring list with 354 and only Ronaldo has more. Benzema has lifted five Champions Leagues, four La Liga titles, and three Copa del Rey with Madrid. But after a stellar 2021-22 season when he led Madrid to Champions League glory and was rewarded with the Ballon d’Or, Benzema was troubled by injuries in the just-completed season and had to miss France’s World Cup campaign in Qatar last year with a thigh problem.

Benzema held a goodbye ceremony at Real Madrid’s training ground on Tuesday. It hurts me because I had a dream in my head to sign for Madrid, and finish at Madrid, he told his teammates and club officials. But sometimes life gives you other opportunities, he added.

Saudi Arabia has drawn up a list of more than 10 players who have won either the Champions League or the World Cup that it wants to lure to its league, a source close to the negotiations has told AFP.

The list includes Croatia midfielder Luka Modric, Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and his France teammate N’Golo Kante. All are at the tail-end of their careers.

The world’s biggest oil producer has ambitions to host the World Cup in 2030 or 2034 and is betting on the sport to help revamp its austere image, which has earned accusations from rights groups that it is sport-swashing.