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Al-Ittihad Club, the Saudi Pro League champions, has agreed terms to sign Karim Benzema. The current Ballon d’Or holder, regarded as one of the finest strikers in the modern era, will join on an initial three-year contract.
The French superstar has undergone a medical in Madrid and is set to join the Kingdom’s oldest sports club, based in Jeddah.
Benzema’s arrival is the most impactful transfer in the club’s history to date. It also marks another huge step in the Saudi Pro League’s journey to become one of football’s leading destinations for the world’s very best after its biggest season to date. With over 80% of Saudi Arabia’s population either playing, attending or following football the signing will further help the nation’s ambitions to get more people inspired and participating in sport. Recent developments include the establishment of a professional women’s premier league and women’s national team and school girls league with 50,000 playing each week.
Benzema is one of football’s most decorated players winning 24 trophies with Real Madrid, including four La Liga, three Copa del Rey and five UEFA Champions League titles – the club’s second highest goal scorer ever behind Cristiano Ronaldo. The 97-cap French international is also the current UEFA Player of the Year. He last played in Saudi Arabia at the start of the year, leading Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup final.
Karim Benzema said: “I am excited to experience a new football league in a different country. Al-Ittihad Club has an amazing history, incredibly passionate fans and big ambitions in football to be a force in Asia after winning the league. I have been fortunate to achieve amazing things in my career and achieve everything I can in Spain and Europe. It now feels the time is right for a new challenge and project. Every time I’ve visited Saudi Arabia I’ve always felt such warmth and love from the fans and people. I am looking forward to joining my new teammates and, together with them, help take this amazing club and the game in Saudi Arabia to new levels.”
In his first exclusive interview as an Al-Ittihad Club player, which will be published on the club’s social channels, he said: “It’s a new challenge for me, a new life and I can't wait to start training. I will do everything to win trophies, to score, to show my talent, to satisfy the fans, the club, the President – everyone. It’s a good league and there are many good players. Cristiano Ronaldo is already there, a friend which shows Saudi Arabia is starting to further progress it’s level. I am here to win, like I did in Europe. I am excited to see you in Jeddah.”
This season saw Al-Ittihad Club, managed by Nuno Espirito Santo, secure a ninth overall title in the Saudi Pro League (Roshn Saudi League) – their first championship since 2009. The team, considered one of Asia’s most successful clubs, have now qualified for this December’s 20th FIFA Club World Cup™.
During the official signing on Monday morning in Madrid, the Al-Ittihad Club President at the time, Anmar Bin Abdullah Alhailae said: “To sign the current Ballon d’Or holder from Real Madrid is another historic milestone for this special club. Karim is global football icon, he’s box office and very much at the top of his powers. He joins a club and hugely competitive league – in a country with big ambitions both on and off the pitch. We know all eyes will be on him and can’t wait to see him in the number 9 shirt of Al-Ittihad Club next season as we face an incredibly exciting challenge to defend our title, compete in Asia and play on the global state of the FIFA Club World Cup.
“When you start winning championships, you attract fans and admirers, especially from the younger generations. Having a player like Karim Benzema, you'll see, will have a sporting affect and presence on the streets, they will start wearing Karim’s shirt, they will try to move like his does on the pitch. I assure you, these will be very beautiful and historic moments. Welcome Karim!”
The 2022 – 2023 season has been the Saudi Pro League’s biggest yet, with more spectators, followers and global viewing than ever before. Attendances have doubled year on year and with league now broadcast in 170 countries, Benzema’s signing will help the league continue its long-term strategy for football in the Kingdom to maximise the Saudi Pro League’s potential; to be a world class league that inspires millions to play, attend and follow.
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