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Karim Benzema officially leaves Real Madrid as club legend, with Saudi Arabia move likely

Karim Benzema spent the past 14 seasons at Real Madrid. (Photo by Ruben de la Fuente Perez/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Karim Benzema is officially leaving Real Madrid, and will soon sign with Saudi Arabian club Al Ittihad, according to widespread reports this week.

Real Madrid bid farewell to Benzema, its captain, with an official statement Sunday morning. It said that the two parties "have agreed to bring his brilliant and unforgettable time as a player at our club to a close."

That time featured 353 goals, the second-most in Real Madrid history, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, from whose shadow Benzema emerged in 2018 and beyond to become a late-blooming superstar.

Benzema had joined Madrid in 2009, at 21 years old, and sometimes struggled with goalscoring consistency. But club and player stood by one another, and elevated Benzema to a central role after Ronaldo's departure. Benzema had already contributed to titles as a supplementary player; in his 30s, he became the protagonist for more.

He departs having won four La Liga crowns and five Champions Leagues. Secondary competitions included, he won 25 trophies in all, the joint-most of any player in Real Madrid history. Over 14 seasons, he made 647 appearances (the fifth-most in club history), and supplied more assists than any Real player on record.

He also won a triumphant and deserved Ballon d'Or in 2022, becoming a first-time winner of the award at age 34.

And now, as aging Ballon d'Or winners apparently do these days, he is off to Saudi Arabia. That announcement is expected this week, after Benzema plays his final game for Real on Sunday and says one last goodbye at an event on Tuesday. (Real, in its Sunday statement, called this event "an institutional act of homage and farewell.")

According to reports earlier this week, Benzema has accepted a nine-figure offer from Saudi Arabia. ESPN reported that it's a two-year, €400 million (about $430 million) deal. He'll become the second Ballon d'Or winner to leave Europe for Saudi Arabia after Ronaldo signed a nine-figure deal with Al Nassr in December.

Seven-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi, who will leave Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain after this season, could also sign with Saudi Pro League team Al-Hilal. Messi's decision is expected this coming week.

The Saudi Arabian league has long been considered an afterthought by European soccer's elite, but the nation's rulers, backed by their limitless Public Investment Fund, have hatched a plan to bring some of the sport's biggest names to the Gulf kingdom. Benzema is the latest, and almost certainly won't be the last.