JEDDAH: Saudi Pro League champions Al-Ittihad have agreed terms to sign Karim Benzema, it was announced on Tuesday.
The Ballon d’Or holder, regarded as one of the finest strikers of the modern era, will join on an initial three-year contract, the club said.
The French superstar underwent a medical in Madrid and is set to be unveiled by the Jeddah giants later this week.
Benzema won 24 trophies with Real Madrid, including four La Liga titles, three Copa del Reys and five UEFA Champions League titles, and is the club’s second-highest goal scorer 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, for Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup final.
“I am excited to experience a new football league in a different country. Al-Ittihad 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,” he said.
“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,” he added.
In his first interview as an Al-Ittihad 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 its level. I am here to win, like I did in Europe. I am excited to see you in Jeddah.”
This season saw Al-Ittihad, managed by Nuno Espirito Santo, secure a ninth overall title in the SPL – their first championship since 2009. The title qualifies them for December’s FIFA Club World Cup.
Al-Ittihad Club President 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 a 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 stage 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 will have a sporting effect and presence on the streets.
He said the fans would “start wearing Karim’s shirt, they will try to move like he does on the pitch. I assure you, these will be very beautiful and historic moments. Welcome Karim!”