Karim Benzema welcomed to Al Ittihad by thousands of fans and fireworks - in pictures

French striker tells fans at his unveiling he wants to achieve 'big things' with the Saudi champions

Karim Benzema during a presentation to introduce him as an Al Ittihad player. Reuters
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Karim Benzema was welcomed to Al Ittihad with a lavish presentation ceremony on Thursday evening as thousands of fans packed the stadium and fireworks were let off to celebrate his arrival.

Benzema, 35, announced last weekend he would leave Real Madrid after 14 years and with his place in the club's history books firmly cemented. Just two days later, the French striker was confirmed as an Ittihad player after signing a three-year contract with the Saudi Pro League champions.

At Benzema's official unveiling at Ittihad's King Abdullah Sports City stadium, fans packed out the 62,000-capacity venue, where a drone and light show started proceedings, before Benzema addressed his new club's supporters.

"I want to say thank you so much, I hope, Inshallah, we’re going to do big things," he said. "I chose Al Ittihad because they’re a great team, they’ve just won the championship and, of course, they have amazing fans. I’m going to do everything I can to put the team in the highest level.”

The former France international, who wore a 'Benzema 9' Ittihad jersey, was greeted on the pitch by young boys and girls from Ittihad’s youth programme. He concluded the presentation by lifting his Ballon d’Or trophy, before doing a lap of the stadium too applaud the fans.

“The fans are so important, they’re the 12th player on the pitch, they push you and allow you to do great things on the pitch," Benzema said in his earlier press conference. "I can’t wait to meet them and to share this moment with them, and all the country.

“My family is very happy to be coming to Saudi Arabia. They have been waiting for a long time, I love this country, I’ve had the opportunity to play in Saudi Arabia a couple of times and have come to Saudi twice for Umrah. We’re all very excited to start this journey.”

Benzema's arrival is expected to be one of several big-name signings made by Saudi Pro League clubs this summer. Barcelona captain Sergio Busquets and Manchester City forward Riyad Mahrez are among several names linked with clubs in the kingdom.

Cristiano Ronaldo, a long-time teammate of Benzema's at Real Madrid, will be a direct rival next season, with the Portuguese superstar playing for Al Nassr.

Updated: June 09, 2023, 9:29 AM