Benzema joins Saudi champions Al Ittihad after Real exit

Karim Benzema has joined Saudi Arabia champions Al Ittihad on a three-year deal after leaving Real Madrid.

The French forward announced his departure from the Spanish club last weekend, bringing a 14-year spell to an end during which he won LaLiga on four occasions and the Champions League five times.

Al Ittihad are managed by former Wolves and Tottenham boss Nuno Espirito Santo and finished five points ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr – who came second – last season.

Al Ittihad posted a video on Twitter of Benzema signing a contract until 2026, although the club did not disclose any financial details.

“I am excited to experience a new football league in a different country,” the 35-year-old, who will wear the No 9 shirt, said.

“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. I am looking forward to joining my new team-mates and, together with them, help take this amazing club and the game in Saudi Arabia to new levels.”

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Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti was surprised by Benzema’s announcement he was to leave the club

Benzema had been with Madrid since 2009 and won a club-record 25 titles. His last season with Madrid saw him captain the team to victory in the Copa del Rey final but they finished second to Barcelona in LaLiga and lost in the semi-finals of the Champions League to Manchester City.

He bid farewell to the fans after scoring in his final Madrid game on Sunday, a 1-1 draw with Athletic Bilbao.

Al Ittihad, from the port city of Jeddah, won their first Saudi league title since 2009 last month after overhauling Ronaldo’s Al Nassr from the capital city of Riyadh, who had led for much of the season.

Benzema will be by far the best-known player in a squad that relied heavily this season on Moroccan striker Abderrazak Hamdallah, the league’s top scorer.

Benzema: I’ll never forget Real Madrid

Benzema said farewell to Real Madrid in a small, private ceremony closed to fans and media on Tuesday after choosing to leave the club.

“I will never forget Real Madrid,” said Benzema. “It’s impossible. It’s the best club in history but I think today is the time to leave and to get to know another story.

“It’s difficult to talk with so many feelings but I wanted to thank Real Madrid and my team-mates. It was a good path in my life. I have been lucky enough to fulfil my childhood dream.”

Benzema scored 354 goals during 14 years at Real and sits second on the club’s all-time scoring list behind Cristiano Ronaldo.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez told Benzema: “You have been an example of behaviour and professionalism in our club.

“You have earned the right to decide your destiny. A future that only belongs to you and we must respect it.”

Ancelotti: Benzema’s Real exit surprised me

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Ancelotti outlines his plans to find a striker to replace Benzema

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti said he was surprised after Benzema announced his departure from the club after 14 years.

Speaking about Benzema, who had previously suggested the club legend “should retire at Real Madrid”, said: “Yes, it was a surprise, it was a massive surprise for everyone but we had to understand that he thought about it twice and this is part of a process that started at this club some years ago, a transition that will continue next season.

“So we have enough time to think twice about what we need to do [to replace Benzema] and the squad will be very competitive next season, I can assure you of that.”

The former France international joined Real from hometown club Lyon in 2009 and made 658 appearances.

Ancelotti paid tribute to the departing striker after his final game for the club, telling reporters he had coached one of the “best players in the world” as well as complimenting the temperament of the veteran forward.

He said: “Well, being able to coach one of the best players in the world and one of the best strikers in the world, not just a striker, a very complete footballer. Someone very kind, very humble, very serious.

“It’s obvious in his farewell, we cannot be happy but we need to respect his decision. He’s earned the right to choose where he wants to be and I and everyone else want to thank him for what he’s been able to do at this club which has been legendary. Something unbelievable and unforgettable and which will stay at the club forever.”

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