Over 60,000 Ittihad fans throng Jeddah stadium to welcome Benzema in the biggest Saudi unveiling

June 08, 2023

Saudi Gazette report

— Over 60,000 fans of Saudi Champions Al-Ittihad welcomed French superstar Karim Benzema at a grand reception held at Al-Jawhara Stadium of King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah Thursday night.

This is by far the biggest welcome that was accorded to any player in Saudi Arabia and his name was added to the biggest top five players in history getting such a rousing reception. It was also incredible that Al-Ittihad had sold more than 56,000 tickets for Benzema’s debut appearance within hours of starting the sale at just SR9 ($2.40).

The jubilant gathering of fans was for the second time in a week after they thronged the stadium to celebrate Al-Ittihad’s crowning of the Saudi Pro League title last Wednesday after a long wait of 14 years. On Wednesday, the club officials started offering fans tickets to participate in the reception for Benzema.

Jeddah has been in the grip of Benzema fever ever since the news of his signing by Al-Ittihad became public. A large number of supporters wearing the club’s yellow and black colors greeted Benzema upon his arrival in the city Wednesday night.

Benzema, a former Real Madrid captain, has won 25 titles and scored 354 goals in 648 appearances for the Spanish club. He had spent 14 years at Real Madrid and departed on Sunday as their second-highest goal-scorer of all time. He signed an initial three-year contract with Ittihad.

Benzema arrived in Jeddah on Wednesday, a day after completing the move to Saudi Pro League champions Al-Ittihad. The 35-year-old French striker and Ballon d’Or winner signed a three-season contract with the Jeddah club on Tuesday for a total of $165 million, according to local media reports.

Benzema wants to leave a “lasting legacy” and deliver trophies at his new club, he said in his maiden press conference on Thursday before being presented to the fans.

The international striker said his Islamic faith was a significant factor in his decision to move to Saudi Arabia. “It's a new challenge for me, a new life, and I can't wait to start training. I will do everything to win trophies, to score, to show my talent, to satisfy the fans, the club, the president – everyone,” he said.

Benzema continued: “I hope for my new club, what I’ll be able to bring is my football and most importantly to be able to win titles. It’s a new chapter for me and I would like to further advance the club.

“It’s a club with a lot of passion. I would like the fans to find themselves in me. I would like to leave a lasting legacy because I love football. I always have this competitiveness to push my limits and go even higher. That’s why I’m going to be well prepared to give them and show them my talent.”

Benzema said about Al-Ittihad that it’s one of the top clubs in Saudi Arabia. “It’s a club that sees a lot of passion from its fans and has many trophies. The stadium is exceptional, and as I said and will repeat, there’s so much passion – a good team always needs fans. The fans are very important, and with that passion, it gives us the motivation to be the best on the field.”

Asked why he chose Saudi Arabia, he said: “Well, because I am Muslim and it’s a Muslim country. I’ve always wanted to live there. I’ve already been to Saudi Arabia, and I feel good about it.

“Most importantly, it’s a Muslim country, it’s beloved and it’s beautiful. When I had a conversation with my family I was signing with Saudi Arabia, they were all very happy and here I am. To me, it’s where I want to be.”

“I feel people already like me,” he said, adding, “Living in Saudi will allow me to have a new life. I would like to learn Arabic and speak it fluently, it’s important for me. I’ve already been to Saudi Arabia, Makkah is very close and as a believer, it’s important for me — this is where I will feel at my best and in my element.”

Benzema was Al-Ittihad’s first signing since winning the league title for the first time in 2009 with compatriot N’Golo Kante expected to join him from Chelsea soon.

Cristiano Ronaldo blazed the trail in the Saudi Pro League by signing a lucrative contract with Al-Nassr in December.

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