Karim Benzema's Real Madrid exit 'a surprise,' says Carlo Ancelotti

French striker scored his 354th and final goal for the club in 1-1 draw against Athletic Bilbao

Real Madrid's French forward Karim Benzema celebrates scoring a goal from the penalty spot during the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid CF and Athletic Club Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on June 4, 2023.  (Photo by Pierre-Philippe MARCOU  /  AFP)
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Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti said Karim Benzema's decision to leave the club was a "surprise for everyone" with the Frenchman almost certainly set to sign for Saudi Arabia champions Al Ittihad.

Benzema’s departure was announced by the Spanish giants hours before the striker netted for the final time in Real’s last game of the season on Sunday night, a penalty equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Athletic Bilbao that clinched second place in La Liga.

It brought down the curtain on a glittering career at Real Madrid for Benzema, who joined the club for €41 million from French club Lyon in July 2009.

His goal against Athletic was his 354th in 648 appearances for Real, making him the club's second highest scorer of all time behind Cristiano Ronaldo.

Benzema is the most decorated player in Real Madrid's history, winning 25 major trophies including four La Ligas, five Champions Leagues, three Copa del Reys and five Club World Cup titles in his 14 years in Spain.

Ancelotti told a press conference: “His departure was a surprise for everyone, but you have to understand it. It was a last-minute decision. Yesterday he trained normally and today he made this decision.

“We understand it. I spoke to him this morning and he said that he was leaving and I understood it. He has done very well with me in these four years and also at the club. For that all my thanks.

“He has thought it through and his decision is part of the transition of this club, which continues and will continue next year. We have time to think about what we have to do. We will have a competitive squad next year.

“I am sending him off knowing that I have coached one of the best players in the world and one of the best forwards. He is a very kind, humble and serious person.

“We cannot be happy about his farewell, but we have to respect his decision. He has won the right to choose and we all thank him for what he has been able to do at this club. It has been legendary, something unforgettable, and it will remain forever in the memory of this club.”

Oihan Sancet broke the deadlock for the visitors four minutes after the break following a first half which had seen Real keeper Thibaut Courtois keep out Mikel Vesga’s penalty.

The hosts won a spot-kick of their own after Eder Militao was fouled in the box, which Benzema coolly converted after 72 minutes for his final goal with the club.

Two minutes later the 35-year-old was replaced by Luka Modric and was treated to a standing ovation as he left the pitch.

Benzema, the reigning Ballon d’Or holder and current Uefa Player of the Year, has been linked with a lucrative move to Al Ittihad, with reports suggesting a two-year deal worth €100 million per season is on the table.

He follows the path of former Real teammate Ronaldo, who signed what is believed to be the biggest contract in football history when joining Al Nassr last summer.

A host of big names are predicted to move to the kingdom this summer, with Lionel Messi reported to be considering a move to Al Hilal.

Earlier in the day Real Madrid released a statement saying the club and Benzema had “agreed to end his brilliant and unforgettable” stay at the Bernabeu.

It added: “Real Madrid would like to show its gratitude and affection to a player who is already one of our greatest legends.

“Karim Benzema’s career at Real Madrid has been a shining example of conduct and professionalism, and he has represented the values of our club.

“Karim Benzema has earned the right to decide his future.

“Madridistas and all the fans around the world have enjoyed his magical and unique football, which has made him one of the great icons of our club and one of the great legends of world football.

“Real Madrid is and will always be his home, and we wish him and all his family the best in this new stage of his life.”

Real have confirmed they will hold “an institutional act of tribute and farewell” to Benzema in the Spanish capital on Tuesday in the presence of club president Florentino Perez.

Updated: June 05, 2023, 7:58 AM