Karim Benzema bids farewell to Real Madrid: 'It hurts me to leave this club'

French striker, 35, set for move to Saudi Pro League champions Al Ittihad

Karim Benzema with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez at the farewell ceremony on June 6, 2023. Getty
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Karim Benzema bid farewell to Real Madrid on Tuesday admitting that leaving the Spanish club after 14 years “hurts” as the striker prepares to sign for Saudi Arabia's Al Ittihad.

The 35-year-old forward joined Real in 2009 from Ligue 1 side Lyon before going on to score 354 goals 648 appearances for Los Blancos. Only Cristiano Ronaldo, with 450 goals, is ahead of him on the club's all-time scorers' list.

It was expected that the Frenchman would stay on for another season in the Spanish capital but he is instead leaving as a free agent and heading out to the Middle East to join the Saudi Pro League champions.

Media reports suggest it will be on a two-year deal with the option of staying on for a third and he will go up against former teammate Ronaldo, who plays for rival club Al Nassr.

Old La Liga foe Lionel Messi could also move to the kingdom with Al Hilal keen on signing the Argentine World Cup winner, who has just played his last game for Paris Saint-Germain.

“It's a bit of a sad day, because I am leaving this club, it hurts me, because I had a dream in my head – to sign for Madrid, and finish at Madrid, but sometimes life gives you other opportunities,” said Benzema in a small ceremony at the club's training ground that lasted less than 20 minutes.

“I will always watch Madrid's games, and thanks to the fans, too, who pushed me on to play good games.”

Benzema said he was grateful to Real Madrid president Florentino Perez for signing him as a 21-year-old during a summer when the club also brought in Ronaldo and Brazilian attacker Kaka.

“When I saw you, I said this is the man who brought Zizou [Zinedine Zidane] and Ronaldo, now he wants me in his team,” said Benzema.

“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.

“It's difficult to talk with so many feelings, but I wanted to thank Real Madrid and my teammates. It was a good path in my life. I have been lucky enough to fulfil my childhood dream.”

Perez thanked Benzema for all he had done for the club at the ceremony that was attended by his Real teammates and manager Carlo Ancelotti.

“Today is a very difficult day for me and it’s an emotional day for all Madridistas. Many memories are coming to mind,” said Perez.

“Fourteen years ago, your incredible era started. And, in this time, you have become one of the best players in history. You arrived very young and went on to become one of our greatest legends.

“You have always represented the values of Real Madrid and, today, after everything you have done at this club for 14 years, I want to tell you that you have earned the right to decide your own destiny, a future that only belongs to you and that we must accept and respect.

“You arrived when you were almost a child and today you have become one of our great legends, one of the best players of all time. Your legend will last forever as a beautiful love story between Karim Benzema and Real Madrid.”

Benzema won 25 major trophies in total during his spell in Spain – including five Champions Leagues, four La Liga titles and three Copas del Rey – and is the current Ballon d'Or holder, after his 44 goals in 46 games across all competitions helped Real win La Liga and the Champions League in 2021/22.

“That was a season that will never be forgotten, as you led the team,” said Perez. “When it seemed impossible and nobody believed in us, you and your teammates were to show that we never give up at Real Madrid. No Madridista will ever forget those comebacks.”

Updated: June 06, 2023, 1:05 PM