Published: 2023-06-11 10:41
Last Updated: 2024-02-25 00:53
"I am Muslim and it’s a Muslim country. I’ve always wanted to live there," says ex-Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, in his first interview upon arrival to Saudi Arabia, published on Al-Ittihad's Twitter page.
The Ballon d'Or winner joins Cristiano Ronaldo in the Gulf kingdom after signing a three-year deal with the Jeddah-based club Al-Ittihad.
-After missing out on Messi, Saudis give Benzema gala welcome-
Benzema was unveiled as an Al-Ittihad player in front of thousands of fans in Saudi Arabia Thursday, a day after the oil-rich kingdom just failed to reel in Lionel Messi.
Fireworks and flame-throwers greeted Benzema, wearing their black and yellow kit with the number nine, at Al-Ittihad's 60,000-seater stadium in Jeddah, where a giant 'KB9' was emblazoned on the pitch in bright lights.
"Assalam o aleikum," the 35-year-old said to the crowd, before hoisting the Ballon d'Or -- the trophy he won last year -- above his head.
Benzema joins Portugal idol Cristiano Ronaldo as the latest superstar to join the Saudi Pro League, which has a hit-list of high-profile targets, according to a source close to the negotiations.
The Frenchman's appearance in Jeddah follows a strenuous Saudi courtship of Messi before the Argentina World Cup-winner opted for Inter Miami on Wednesday as his final club before retiring.
Benzema, who won five Champions Leagues, four La Liga titles and three Copas del Rey with Madrid, said he was hoping for more silverware with the Saudi champions.
"I'm hungry, I want to play and show what I can still do on the pitch, and especially to put the club where it should be, which is right at the top," he told a brief press conference.