Karim Benzema has insisted that he “always wanted” to live in Saudi Arabia, having joined Al Ittihad during the summer.
The legendary forward was widely expected to sign a one-year contract at Real Madrid following the conclusion of the 2022/23 season, however he instead shockingly opted to join Saudi Pro League outfit Al Ittihad – signing a deal worth a whopping £172m per year.
To date, Benzema has made 11 appearances for his new clubs, scoring six goals in those games and propelling the reigning champions to the upper reaches of the Saudi Pro League table.
Speaking the league’s official media channels, Benzema took the time to explain his decision to make the move to the Middle East, citing his religion as a key factor.
“Well with everything I’ve made and gained with Real Madrid, I think it was for me the good moment to try a new challenge,” he said. “For a really long time, even before football, I always wanted to come here. Also, it’s a Muslim country. Straight away I felt this love for me. On and off the pitch I feel good.
“This country welcomed me with open arms. I feel the love of the people here so obviously that makes me happy.”
“I really want to help Saudi football grow. [Al Ittihad] was a project that was just starting to burst from everywhere so from my side I wanted to be part of the story. That’s the reason why I came here.”
Benzema also discussed how surprised he’s been by the standard of play in the Saudi Pro League. A huge number of top level players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez have all made the move to the league over the last 12 months, greatly improving the product.
“I’m really surprised and pleased about the level of the game here,” he went on to explain. “Really surprised because in Europe we don’t watch much football from here. Nowadays we are watching more and more because of the big names they signed.”