Karim Benzema is officially unveiled as an Al-Ittihad player

Karim Benzema is officially unveiled as an Al-Ittihad player in front of 60,000 fans – and brings his Ballon d’Or with him – as the Frenchman claims he wants to play in Saudi Arabia because ‘it’s a Muslim country’

  • Karim Benzema has been officially unveiled as an Al-Ittihad player on Thursday
  • The Frenchman decided to leave Real Madrid for a move to the Middle East
  • He explained the decision to move to Saudi Arabia was inspired by religion 

Karim Benzema has officially been unveiled in front of 60,000 supporters inside the King Abdullah Sport City Stadium after joining Saudi Pro League side Al-Ittihad.

The Frenchman became the second superstar to move to the Middle East, following in the footsteps of his former Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo.

Benzema was announced to a roaring crowd that hailed the 35-year-old’s arrival in the nation and adorned the number nine shirt as he walked out onto the pitch.

The announcement began with Benzema attending a press conference where questions were asked in English and the striker responded with answers in French that were then translated.

Joining on a three-year contract worth £258million, Benzema revealed that his move to Saudi Arabia was inspired by his Muslim religion, not the bounty of money on offer. 

Karim Benzema (middle) was officially unveiled as a Al-Ittihad player on Friday afternoon

The Frenchman has joined the Saudi Arabian side on a three-year deal after deciding to leave Real Madrid

Benzema explained to the crowd that came to watch his announcement that he wants to play in Saudi Arabia because of his Muslim faith

‘Because I am Muslim and it’s a Muslim country. I’ve always wanted to live there. I’ve already been to Saudi Arabia and I feel good about it,’ said Benzema.

‘To me it’s where I want to be… I hope for my new club, what I’ll be able to bring is my football and most importantly to be able to win titles.

‘It’s a new chapter for me and I would like to further advance the club. It’s a club with a lot of passion.’

Benzema is of Muslim faith and now finds himself playing in the ‘holy kingdom’ where Islam is practiced by 90 per cent of the population.

The goalscorer brought his Ballon d’Or award to the procession and was encouraged to show it off to Al-Ittihad supporters who had gathered inside the stadium.

A light show lit up his initials alongside the number nine to celebrate his awarding of the shirt number, the same that he adopted during a glorious spell of success in Madrid.

Benzema scored 354 goals in 648 games and won a club-record 25 trophies during his time with the LaLiga side.

Upon departing Spain, he told a farewell press conference: ‘I’ll never forget Real Madrid because it’s impossible.

The Frenchman (left) unveiled his Ballon d’Or award to the crowd inside the King Abdullah Sport City Stadium

Benzema (pictured) is the second high-profile star to move to the Saudi Pro League after Cristiano Ronaldo

‘It’s difficult to talk. There are so many emotions. I wanted to thank Real Madrid and my team-mates. It’s been a good journey in my life.

‘I was lucky enough to fulfil my childhood dream thanks to the president, who a long time ago, when I was just 21 years old, went to my house, with my parents.

One supporter in the crowd held up one of Benzema’s previous Real Madrid shirts

‘When I saw you I said, he’s the man who brought Zizou and Ronaldo and now he wants me in his team. Thank you very much for that.

‘I’ll never forget Real Madrid because it is impossible. It’s the best club in the world and in history, that’s as good as it gets. It’s time for me to leave today and to have another story, but the most important thing for me is what I’ve won here.

‘It’s a little bit of a sad day, because I’m leaving this club and that pains me. My dream was in my head, I signed for Madrid and I wanted to finish at Madrid, but life sometimes gives you another opportunity and I’ve taken it with all my family.’

Benzema joined from Lyon in 2009 and won four LaLiga titles and five Champions League crowns. He also won the 2022 Ballon d’Or.

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