Karim Benzema: The end of an era at Real Madrid and a new challenge in Saudi Arabia

Karim Benzema, one of the greatest strikers of his generation and a legend of Real Madrid, has announced his departure from the Spanish club after 14 years of service. The 35-year-old Frenchman has signed a deal with Saudi Arabian champions Al-Ittihad, where he will join former Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo and compete for more titles and glory.

Benzema leaves Real Madrid as the club’s second-highest all-time goalscorer, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, with 354 goals in 658 appearances. He won 25 major trophies with the club, including five Champions League titles, five Club World Cups, four La Liga titles and two Copa del Rey titles. He also won the prestigious Ballon d’Or award in 2022, becoming the first French player to do so since Zinedine Zidane in 1998.

Benzema’s departure marks the end of an era at Real Madrid, where he formed a formidable partnership with Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, known as the “BBC” trio. He was also a key player for Carlo Ancelotti, who returned to the club as manager in 2022 and praised Benzema’s professionalism and conduct. Ancelotti said he respected Benzema’s decision to leave but admitted he was not happy about it.

“Real Madrid CF and our captain Karim Benzema have agreed to end his brilliant and unforgettable period as a player for our club,” Real Madrid said in a statement on Sunday. “Real Madrid would like to show its gratitude and affection for who is already one of our greatest legends. Karim Benzema’s career at Real Madrid has been an example of conduct and professionalism, and he has represented the values ​​of our club.”

Benzema scored a penalty in his final game for Real Madrid on Sunday, a 1-1 draw against Athletic Bilbao. He received a standing ovation from the fans at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, who chanted his name and thanked him for his service. Benzema was emotional as he waved goodbye to the supporters and his teammates, who gave him a guard of honor.

“It’s a bit of a sad day, because I am leaving this club, it hurts me, because I had a dream in my head—to sign for Madrid, and finish at Madrid, but sometimes life gives you other opportunities,” Benzema said in his farewell press conference on Tuesday. “I want to thank everyone who has supported me during these 14 years, the fans, the president, the coaches, the staff, my teammates. I have only words of gratitude for this club that has given me everything.”

Benzema will now embark on a new adventure in Saudi Arabia, where he will play for Al-Ittihad, the reigning champions of the Saudi Pro League. He will reportedly earn a huge salary and will have the chance to win more trophies with the club that has won nine league titles and three Asian Champions League titles.

Benzema follows the path of his former Real Madrid teammate Ronaldo, who joined Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia in December 2022. This move highlights the increasing appeal of Saudi Arabia as a football destination for top players. Lionel Messi is also wanted in Saudi Arabia and has been offered more than £350m a year by Al-Hilal.

Benzema said he was looking forward to playing in Saudi Arabia and hoped to make an impact with Al-Ittihad. He said he was motivated by the challenge and the opportunity to experience a different culture and league.

“I am very happy to join Al-Ittihad, it is a great club with a lot of history and ambition,” Benzema said. “I want to help them achieve their goals and make their fans happy. I am ready for this new challenge and I hope to adapt quickly to this new environment.”

Benzema will be remembered as one of the best strikers of his era and one of the most successful players in Real Madrid’s history. He will also be missed by many fans around the world who enjoyed his magical and unique football. He will now try to write a new chapter in his career with Al-Ittihad in Saudi Arabia.