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Al-Ittihad confirm Karim Benzema signing

Al-Ittihad confirm Karim Benzema signing
© Reuters
Al-Ittihad confirm the signing of Ballon d'Or winner and former Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema on a three-year contract.

Saudi Arabian champions Al-Ittihad have confirmed the signing of Ballon d'Or-winning striker Karim Benzema on a three-year deal until 2026.

The former France international unexpectedly called time on a glittering 14-year career at Real Madrid over the weekend, having initially been expected to extend his stay until 2024.

Benzema left Real Madrid as their second-highest scorer of all time with 354 goals in 648 matches, winning a whopping five Champions League crowns with Los Blancos.

Having also collected four La Liga titles and four Ligue 1 crowns from his time at Lyon, Benzema has affirmed that he has achieved everything he set out to achieve in European football as he prepares to spend the next three seasons with Nuno Espirito Santo's side.

"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," the striker told Al-Ittihad's official media channels.

"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."

Benzema's switch to Saudi Arabia is the latest high-profile coup for the Gulf state, as the 35-year-old prepares to reunite with former Blancos teammate and Al-Nassr captain Cristiano Ronaldo.

Lionel Messi also continues to be linked with a switch to the Middle East after leaving Paris Saint-Germain, and Al-Ittihad president Anmar Bin Abdullah Alhailae hailed a "historic milestone" for the Saudi Pro League champions.

"To sign the current Ballon d'Or holder from Real Madrid is another historic milestone for this special club," the Al-Ittihad president added.

Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema pictured on June 4, 2023© Reuters

"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 state of the FIFA Club World Cup."

Benzema signed off at Real Madrid with a goal in Sunday's 1-1 La Liga final-day draw with Athletic Bilbao, his 31st strike of an injury-hit 2022-23 season in all competitions.

Blancos manager Carlo Ancelotti is believed to have earmarked Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane as his number one target to replace Benzema, but the England captain could be reluctant to leave the Premier League as he chases down Alan Shearer's all-time scoring record.

However, Kane is allegedly just one of five names under consideration for Real Madrid, who are also monitoring Chelsea's Kai Havertz, Napoli's Victor Osimhen, Atalanta BC's Rasmus Hojlund and Roberto Firmino, while Espanyol striker Joselu is expected to join on loan for the 2023-24 season.

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