Ballon d’Or winner 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 o Saudi Arabian side Al Ittihad.
Saudi Arabia’s state-run Al Ekhbariya television station reported that Al Ittihad had reached an agreement with Benzema on a two-year contract, with club officials in Madrid to hammer out a “record deal” with the striker.
Benzema scored the equaliser against Athletic Bilbao in a 1-1 draw to sign off on a high. With Atletico Madrid losing points at Villarreal, Benzema’s goal from the spot enabled Real to finish second behind champions Barcelona.
When he was replaced by another senior pro Luka Modric, Bernabeu gave the super marksman a standing ovation.
The 35-year-old Frenchman had looked set to stay at the Spanish club for one more year after a 2022-23 season in which he struggled with injuries and missed out on France’s World Cup campaign in Qatar due to another injury.
However, an offer estimated by media to be worth more than $107.05 million from Saudi Arabia reportedly made him reconsider his future.
The Frenchman decided to void the one-year extension clause he had in his contract, with Real saying he had “earned the right to decide his future”.
“Real Madrid and our captain Karim Benzema have agreed to bring his brilliant and unforgettable time as a player at our club to a close,” the club said in a statement.
“Karim Benzema’s career at Real Madrid has been a shining example of conduct and professionalism, and he has represented the values of our club.”
Benzema could follow former Real teammate Cristiano Ronaldo to the Gulf country after the Portugal forward signed a two-and-half-year contract estimated to be worth more than €200 million with Al Nassr in December.
Benzema’s clubmate Vinicius Junior insisted he will “never forget” that the Frenchman was the first player to welcome him to the Bernabeu in 2018.
“I grew up with you. We won in Spain, Europe and the world together. And I was able to applaud your Ballon d’Or with great pride. We finished this ‘duo of darkness’ in real life today, but I will always have our videos as inspiration and memories of an unforgettable time. Karim, we will miss you. Thanks for everything, legend!” Vinicius wrote on Twitter.
Nose for goals
Having joined Real in 2009 from Lyon, Benzema became the spearhead of the club’s attack and their main goal-scoring threat after Ronaldo left for Juventus in 2018.
Benzema scored more than 350 goals for Real to sit second on the club’s all-time scoring list behind Ronaldo.
He had his best season in the 2021-22 campaign when he scored 44 times in all competitions to lead the side to a record-extending 14th European title as well as the La Liga crown.
In the Champions League, Real made remarkable comebacks from losing positions in the last 16, quarter finals and semi-finals against Paris St Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City respectively — with Benzema scoring in each of the second legs.
His pivotal role earned him the Ballon d’Or crown, making him the first French player to win the trophy since Zinedine Zidane in 1998 and the fifth Frenchman overall.
Benzema’s exit comes a day after Real announced Eden Hazard was also leaving the club after agreeing to terminate his contract a year early.
The former Belgium international, 32, joined Real from Chelsea in 2019 and became the Spanish club’s most expensive signing in history, but he has been restricted by several injury problems and struggled to settle at the Bernabeu.
Real also confirmed the exits of Marco Asensio and striker Mariano Diaz.
Written with inputs from Reuters