Karim Benzema is officially unveiled as an Al-Ittihad player in front of 60,000 fans – and brings his Ballon d’Or with him – as the Frenchman claims he wants to play in Saudi Arabia because “it’s a country Muslim”
- Karim Benzema was officially unveiled as an Al-Ittihad player on Thursday
- The Frenchman has decided to leave Real Madrid for a move to the Middle East
- He explained that the decision to move to Saudi Arabia was inspired by religion
Karim Benzema was officially unveiled in front of 60,000 supporters inside the King Abdullah Sport City Stadium after joining Saudi Pro League side Al-Ittihad.
The Frenchman has become the second superstar to move to the Middle East, following in the footsteps of his former Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo.
Benzema was announced to a roaring crowd who welcomed the 35-year-old’s arrival to the country and adorned the number nine shirt as he entered the pitch.
The announcement started with Benzema attending a press conference where questions were asked in English and the striker responded with answers in French which were later translated.
Joining a three-year deal worth £258m, Benzema has revealed his move to Saudi Arabia was inspired by his Muslim religion, not the bounty money on offer.
Karim Benzema (middle) was officially unveiled as an Al-Ittihad player on Friday afternoon
The Frenchman has joined the Saudi team on a three-year contract after deciding to leave Real Madrid
Benzema told the crowd watching his announcement that he wanted to play in Saudi Arabia because of his Muslim faith
“Because I’m a Muslim and it’s a Muslim country. I always wanted to live there. I’ve been to Saudi Arabia before and I feel good,” Benzema said.
“For me, that’s where I want to be… I hope for my new club what I can bring is my football and above all to be able to win titles.
“It’s a new chapter for me and I would like to take the club forward. It’s a club with a lot of passion.
Benzema is of Muslim faith and now finds himself playing in the “holy kingdom” where Islam is practiced by 90% of the population.
The striker brought his Ballon d’Or to the motorcade and was encouraged to show it to Al-Ittihad supporters who had gathered inside the stadium.
A light show illuminated his initials next to the number nine to celebrate the awarding of the shirt number, the same one he adopted on glorious success in Madrid.
Benzema scored 354 goals in 648 games and won a club-record 25 trophies during his time with the LaLiga side.
On leaving Spain, he said at a farewell press conference: “I will never forget Real Madrid because it’s impossible.”
The Frenchman (left) unveiled his Ballon d’Or award to the crowd inside the King Abdullah Sport City Stadium
Benzema (pictured) is the second top star to join the Saudi Pro League after Cristiano Ronaldo
‘It’s hard to talk. There are so many emotions. I wanted to thank Real Madrid and my teammates. It’s been a good trip in my life.
“I had the chance to fulfill my childhood dream thanks to the president who, a long time ago, when I was only 21, came to my house, with my parents.
A fan in the crowd held up one of Benzema’s previous Real Madrid jerseys
“When I saw you, I said, he’s the man who brought Zizou and Ronaldo and now he wants me in his team. Thank you very much for that.
“I will never forget Real Madrid because it’s impossible. It’s the best club in the world and in history, it’s the best. It’s time for me to leave today today and to have another story, but the most important thing for me is what I won here.
“It’s a bit sad day, because I’m leaving this club and it hurts me. My dream was in my head, I signed in Madrid and I wanted to finish in Madrid, but sometimes life gives you another opportunity and I grabbed it with my whole family.
Benzema joined Lyon in 2009 and won four La Liga titles and five Champions League crowns. He also won the 2022 Ballon d’Or.