By Fernando Kallas
MADRID (Reuters) – Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema said farewell to Real Madrid in a small, private ceremony closed to fans and media on Tuesday following a trophy-laden 14-year stay with the LaLiga club.
The French striker, 35, will leave as a free agent in the close season and is set to move to Saudi Arabian side Al Ittihad, signing a two-year deal estimated by media reports to be worth more than 100 million euros ($106.93 million).
There were no tears in a ceremony that lasted less than 20 minutes and in which only players, family and close friends were allowed to attend.
“I will never forget Real Madrid. It’s impossible, it’s the best club in history. But I think today is the time to leave and to get to know another story,” Benzema told the small audience at Real’s training facilities.
“It’s difficult to talk with so many feelings, but I wanted to thank Real Madrid and my team mates. It was a good path in my life. I have been lucky enough to fulfil my childhood dream.”
Having joined Real in 2009 from Olympique Lyonnais, Benzema became the spearhead of the club’s attack and their main goal-scoring threat after Cristiano Ronaldo left for Juventus in 2018.
Benzema scored 354 goals for Real to sit second on the club’s all-time scoring list behind Ronaldo.
He had his best season in the 2021-22 campaign when he scored 44 times in all competitions to lead the side to a record-extending 14th European title as well as the LaLiga crown.
His pivotal role earned him the Ballon d’Or award, making him the first French player to win the trophy since Zinedine Zidane in 1998 and the fifth Frenchman overall.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez praised Benzema for all he had done at the club.
“Karim, you have been an example of behaviour and professionalism in our club,” Perez said.
“You have earned the right to decide your destiny. A future that only belongs to you and we must respect it.”
($1 = 0.9352 euros)
(Reporting by Fernando Kallas; Editing by Christian Radnedge)
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