Karim Benzema Joined Al Ittihad this summer because he always wanted to stay in Saudi Arabia and “help develop Saudi football”.
The France forward, who won the Ballon d’Or in 2022, left Real Madrid after 14 years “to try a new challenge”, signing for Al Ittihad as a free agent with the Saudi Pro League champions in June.
– Stream on ESPN+: La Liga, Bundesliga, more (US)
“With everything I’ve done and achieved with Real Madrid, I think it was a good moment for me to try a new challenge,” said 2022 Ballon d’Or winner Benzema. Saudi Pro League website . “Even before football, for a long time, I always wanted to come here. Also, it is a Muslim country. Directly I felt this love for me. I feel good on and off the field.
“This country has welcomed me with open arms. I feel the love of the people here which makes me happy.”
Benzema, 35, has signed a three-year contract with Al-Ittihad and has big goals.
“I really want to help the development of Saudi football,” he added. “It is [Al Ittihad] It was a project that was just starting to take off so from my side I wanted to be part of the story. That’s why I’m here.”
Many football stars have moved to the Middle East since Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Al Nasr in December 2022 after leaving Manchester United.
Neymar, Kalidou Koulibaly, Eduard Mendy, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Marcelo Brozovic are among those who have moved to the Saudi Pro League this summer.
“I’m really surprised and pleased with the level of play here,” Benzema said. “Really surprised because in Europe we don’t watch much football from here. Nowadays we watch more because they have signed.”
Apart from Benzema, Al-Ittihad, coached by Nuno Espirito Santo, have bolstered their squad with former Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante and former Celtic forward Jota.
“There have been no changes in the team since last year, which is good,” Benzema said. “There have only been a few reinforcements. We have a good squad, and we are working well together.”
Al-Ittihad are fourth in the league, four points clear of leaders Al Hilal after nine games.
Benzema, who has scored three goals and set up three more in seven league appearances so far this season, says his best is yet to come.
“I’m feeling better, getting better.” she said. “I am going to raise my game. Slowly the level of the team is increasing and so am I. But the most important thing for me is to win the trophy at the end of the season.”
Benzema is Madrid’s second all-time top scorer behind Cristiano Ronaldo, and has won 25 trophies with the Spanish giants.