Real Madrid’s Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema will join Cristiano Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia after signing a three-year deal with Al-Ittihad, the Jeddah-based club confirmed on Tuesday.
Lionel Messi, who is leaving Paris Saint-Germain after two seasons, has also been linked with a move to Saudi Arabia.
Senior officials from another Saudi Arabian club, Al Hilal, have flown to France to try and seal a deal for Messi after the 35-year-old Argentinian played his last game for PSG at the weekend, two sources with knowledge of the matter told AFP on Sunday.
The Saudi delegation plans to meet Messi’s father and agent, Jorge, with the aiming of completing the signing as soon as possible.
The announcement regarding Benzema comes days after Real Madrid said that the 35-year-old Benzema was leaving the club after 14 seasons, the day after coach Carlo Ancelotti had insisted there was “no doubt” Benzema’s future was in the Spanish capital.
Benzema joined Madrid in 2009 from Ligue 1 side Lyon.
He made 648 appearances for Madrid and is second on Real’s all-time goalscoring list with 354 — only Ronaldo has more.
He has lifted five Champions Leagues, four La Liga titles and three Copas del Rey with Madrid.
But after a stellar 2021-22 season when he led Real to Champions League glory and was rewarded with the Ballon d’Or, he was troubled by injuries in the just-completed season and had to miss France’s World Cup campaign in Qatar last year with a thigh problem.
Benzema held a goodbye ceremony at Real’s training ground on Tuesday.
“It hurts me, because I had a dream in my head – to sign for Madrid, and finish at Madrid,” he told an audience of his teammates and club officials.
“But sometimes life gives you other opportunities,” he added.
Saudi Arabia has drawn up a list of more than 10 players who have won either the Champions League or the World Cup that it wants to lure to its league, a source close to the negotiations has told AFP.
The list includes Real Madrid and Croatia midfielder Luka Modric, Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and his France teammate N’Golo Kante. All are at the tail-end of their careers.
The world’s biggest oil producer has ambitions to host the World Cup in 2030 or 2034 and is betting on sport to help revamp its austere image, which has earned accusations from rights groups that it is “sportswashing”.