Real Madrid bid farewell to departing Benzema: 'One of our greatest legends'
Karim Benzema has agreed a deal to leave Real Madrid, the Spanish giants said on Sunday, with strong interest in the ex-France striker reportedly coming from Saudi Arabia.
Saudi state television channel Al-Ekhbariya claims the 35-year-old had signed with Jeddah-based Al-Ittihad to feature against former Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo next season.
According to Al-Ekhbariya, the president of Saudi champions Al-Ittihad and his deputy were in the Spanish capital "to officially sign" Benzema in a "record transfer with Real Madrid."
The broadcaster said Benzema had agreed a two-year deal with the club, based on the Red Sea shores of the Gulf kingdom.
Over the past week, Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti - as well as Benzema himself - had said the striker would not end his contract at Santiago Bernabeu early, with one year left of it to run.
"Real Madrid and our captain Karim Benzema have agreed to put an end to his brilliant and unforgettable era as a player at our club," said Los Blancos in a statement.
"Madrid want to show their gratitude and all their love to someone who is one of our greatest legends."
Benzema lifted five Champions Leagues, four La Liga titles, and three Copas del Rey with Madrid and is the holder of the Ballon d'Or for the world's best player.
Various teammates, including Brazil attacker Vinicius Junior, paid tribute to Benzema after the announcement.
"When the boy from Sao Goncalo, so shy, arrived in Madrid in 2018, you were the first to welcome me. I will never forget," Vinicius said on Instagram.
"I grew up with you. We conquered Spain, Europe, and the world together.
"Karim, we will miss you very much," the 22-year-old added.
Benzema joined Madrid in 2009 from Ligue 1 side and hometown outfit Lyon.
Benzema established himself as a key player alongside Ronaldo and Gareth Bale in the vaunted "BBC" attacking trident before developing into the team's leader when the Portugal striker left in 2018.
He is Real Madrid's second top scorer of all time, with 353 goals for the club, behind only Ronaldo on 450.
Benzema's final appearance for them could be later on Sunday when they host Athletic Bilbao in La Liga.
Madrid confirmed on Saturday that Eden Hazard, Marco Asensio, and Mariano Diaz are all leaving this summer, too, allowing for plenty of space for new acquisitions in attack.
Ancelotti avoided talking on Saturday about Madrid's alleged interest in England and Tottenham striker Harry Kane.
"I'm not going to talk about the future of the squad that is in place," said Ancelotti.
"Kane is a great player, he is a Tottenham player, we have to respect the player and Tottenham."
Rise to glory
Benzema battled with Gonzalo Higuain for a regular starting spot in his early days at Madrid and was once derided by then-coach Jose Mourinho for being a "cat" instead of the "hunting dog" he wanted.
While playing alongside Ronaldo, Benzema took the role of supplier and worked hard to provide for his teammate.
The forward greatly increased his goal output after Ronaldo left, playing centrally, and scored 44 in 46 games last season, a performance that earned him the 2022 Ballon d'Or.
Benzema's most recent conquest was the Copa del Rey in May, with Real Madrid beating Osasuna to lift the title for the first time since 2014.
Benzema may cherish last season's Champions League triumph the most of all his successes because he played a crucial role in winning it.
The forward scored a stunning hat-trick to help Madrid come from behind against Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 and progress.
Benzema netted another treble at Stamford Bridge in the quarter-finals against Chelsea and scored the extra-time goal in the second leg which sent his team into the semi-finals.
The forward also scored three goals over two games against Pep Guardiola's Manchester City to help Madrid reach the final, which they won against Liverpool in Paris, his first Champions League triumph as the team's figurehead.
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