Former Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema has signed a deal to join Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad football club on a three-year deal, according to the club.
The announcement on Tuesday comes a day after the Gulf kingdom revealed plans to privatize its biggest football clubs in a bid to increase revenue and attract big-name players.
Without disclosing details of the deal or Benzema’s salary, the club said in a statement that Benzema had undergone a medical examination and completed the signing in Madrid on Monday.
“I am excited to experience a new football league in a different country,” Benzema was quoted as saying in the club statement.
“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,” the Ballon d’Or holder said.
The 35-year-old Frenchman completed the move from the Spanish league to the Saudi Pro League two days after playing his last game for Real Madrid.
He joins his former Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo in the Saudi Pro League after the five-time world player of the Year moved to Al Nassr from Manchester United following last year’s World Cup.
“Al Ittihad has an amazing history, incredibly passionate fans, and big ambitions in football to be a force in Asia after winning the league,” the former France international said referring to his new club’s ninth Saudi League title.
Al Ittihad’s President Anmar Bin Abdullah Alhailae, who was present at the signing in Madrid, said “All eyes will be on Karim” when he puts on the number nine shirt and makes his Saudi League debut next season.
“To sign the current Ballon d’Or holder from Real Madrid is [a] historic milestone for this special club,” Alhailae said.
Benzema joined Madrid in 2009 from Ligue 1 side Lyon.
During his illustrious 14-year career at the club, Benzema won five Champions Leagues, four La Liga titles, and three Copas del Rey.
He made 648 appearances and is second on Real’s all-time goalscoring list with 354. Only Ronaldo has more.
Al Ittihad called Benzema’s arrival “the most impactful transfer in the club’s history”, as it competes with Riyadh-based clubs Al Hilal and Al Nassr in their bid to sign football’s biggest names.
On Monday, the kingdom announced plans to privatize its top football clubs, including Al Ittihad, in a move that will allow companies and development agencies to invest and take over.
The move is aimed at increasing the revenue of the Saudi Pro League to 1.8 billion riyals ($480m) annually by 2030.