It was an open secret, widely exposed by the Spanish press since this weekend. It is now official. Two days after saying goodbye to the Santiago-Bernabeu and Real Madrid – with a final goal, his 354e in the white jersey, and a second place in La Liga – Karim Benzema signed on Tuesday, June 6, with the Saudi club Al-Ittihad. According to AFP, which quotes an internal source at the Saudi club based in Jeddah, the 35-year-old French striker has signed for three years, for an undisclosed amount, but which promises to be staggering.
From Real Madrid press release formalizing his departure on Sunday, the Ballon d’Or 2022 was tipped to join the Saudi kingdom, whose sporting expansion, modeled on the sport geopolitics model of its neighbor Qatar, is increasingly aggressive. Even if, again on Thursday, the most successful player in the history of Real Madrid reaffirmed his presence in the Spanish capital: “JI’m in Madrid, those who talk do it on the internet, and the reality is not the internet”, insisted Benzema during a ceremony organized by the Spanish sports daily brand.
Karim Benzema, “won the right to decide his future”, said Real Madrid on Sunday, in the statement paying tribute to its “legend”. If he had the possibility of extending his Madrid contract for a year, the French player chose to join the Saudi championship. The next three seasons, the native of Bron, in the Lyon conurbation, will evolve under the yellow and black colors of the “Tigers” of Jeddah, nine times champions and winners of two Asian Champions Leagues. Reigning Ballon d’Or, a big prize for the team just crowned champion of Saudi Arabia, the French striker arrives as a hero on the Arabian Peninsula.
At 35, “KB9” finds the same championship as his friend Cristiano Ronaldo – who plays for Al-Nassr, a club in the capital Riyadh. Very accomplices on the field during their years of reign at Real Madrid – punctuated in particular by four coronations in the Champions League –, will fight remotely for the title of Saudi Pro League and very probably for that of top scorer in the championship.
After having ensured the presence of Benzema in its championship, Saudi Arabia is targeting another former “great” of the Spanish championship. After recording his departure from Paris Saint-Germain, the seven-time Ballon d’Or, Lionel Messi, suffered a diligent courtship from Al-Hilal, Riyadh’s other flagship club. And if the reigning world champion, also ambassador of tourism in the Saudi kingdom – which he had joined in early May without the authorization of his club, causing a crisis with PSG – joins his former adversaries, the country ensure a new “victory” in sport, which has become the new showcase of its “soft power”.