Karim Benzema bid farewell to Real Madrid on Tuesday admitting that leaving the Spanish club after 14 years “hurts” as the striker prepares to sign for Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad.
The 35-year-old forward joined Real in 2009 from Ligue 1 side Lyon before going on to score 354 goals 648 appearances for Los Blancos. Only Cristiano Ronaldo, with 450 goals, is ahead of him on the club’s all-time scorers’ list.
It was expected that the Frenchman would stay on for another season in the Spanish capital but he is instead leaving as a free agent and heading out to the Middle East to join the Saudi Pro League champions.
Media reports suggest it will be on a two-year deal with the option of staying on for a third and he will go up against former teammate Ronaldo, who plays for rival club Al Nassr.
Old La Liga foe Lionel Messi could also move to the kingdom with Al Hilal keen on signing the Argentine World Cup winner, who has just played his last game for Paris Saint-Germain.
“It’s a bit of a sad day, because I am leaving this club, it hurts me, because I had a dream in my head – to sign for Madrid, and finish at Madrid, but sometimes life gives you other opportunities,” said Benzema in a small ceremony at the club’s training ground that lasted less than 20 minutes.
“I will always watch Madrid’s games, and thanks to the fans, too, who pushed me on to play good games.”
Benzema said he was grateful to Real Madrid president Florentino Perez for signing him as a 21-year-old during a summer when the club also brought in Ronaldo and Brazilian attacker Kaka.
“When I saw you, I said this is the man who brought Zizou [Zinedine Zidane] and Ronaldo, now he wants me in his team,” said Benzema.
“I will never forget Real Madrid. 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.
Benzema won 25 major trophies in total during his spell in Spain including five Champions Leagues, four La Liga titles and three Copas del Rey – and is the current Ballon d’Or holder, after his 44 goals in 46 games across all competitions helped Real win La Liga and the Champions League in 2021/22.