Karim Benzema was lured by Saudi Arabia’s “huge project” and the fact it is a Muslim country when he decided to end a trophy-laden stint with Real Madrid to move to Al-Ittihad, the French striker said on Wednesday.
Benzema became one of many big names to move to the Saudi Pro League when he joined Al-Ittihad as a free agent in June, signing a deal reportedly worth more than 100 million euros ($106 million) after ending his glittering 14-year stay at Real.
He was joined by compatriot and World Cup winner N’Golo Kante, Brazilian midfielder Fabinho and Portuguese winger Jota as Al-Ittihad splashed out in a bid to retain its league title amid fierce competition from big-spending challengers.
“When the football project started here, it seemed like a huge project in all respects, and I wanted to be a part of it and help advance the game in Saudi Arabia, and this is one of the reasons that made me come here,” Benzema said in an interview with the Saudi Pro League, posted on messaging platform X.
“Also, Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country and they welcomed me with open hands, and I felt loved immediately. As a Muslim when you are in Mecca you feel at peace … it is an exceptional place.”
Benzema has scored three goals in seven league matches this season and provided two assists.
“There is a lot of passion and football history here and I am happy with the level of the game. I am really surprised by the level in Saudi Arabia because in Europe we don’t watch a lot of football matches here,” the 35-year-old added.
“But now there are lots of people (in Europe) who are watching the Saudi league after many big names were brought in.”
Al-Ittihad lie fourth in the league table with 19 points, four adrift of leaders Al-Hilal.