JEDDAH: New Al Ittihad signing Karim Benzema is looking forward to getting results in front of the ‘passionate’ Saudi fans and delivering trophies to his “legendary” new club in a competitive league which he believes is improving year on year.
The current holder of the Ballon d’or signed for the Jeddah based club following 14 seasons of domestic and European glory with Spanish giants Real Madrid and is hoping that his experience can bring plenty of honours for his new club, the recently crowned Saudi Pro League champions.
Speaking on an exclusive interview published on the club Twitter and Instagram and Saudi Pro League channels, he said: “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.”
When asked why came to Saudi Arabia, he stated: “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.”
Speaking about the footballing standards of the players in the Saudi Pro League, he added: “I heard a lot of things, it’s a good championship and there are many good players… each year they take go a level higher. I saw the World Cup, they (Saudi Arabia) played a good game, great matches, especially against (eventual World Cup champions) Argentina. Obviously, they have very good players.”
Benzema famously created a potent attacking threat alongside Cristiano Ronaldo during a highly successful spell at Real Madrid, and he will be lining up against his former Bernabeu team-mate next season, after the Portuguese sensation joined Al-Nassr in Riyadh last term.
Benzema admits that his former team-mate is playing an important role in elevating the standard and profile of Saudi football.
“It’s important also that Cristiano Ronaldo is in Saudi Arabia, because he’s a very big player. He brings a lot to the game in this country and that will further elevate their playing level,” he said. “So it’s important to show that Saudi football can have a global impact because it’s not about playing in Saudi Arabia or not performing. No, on the contrary I have to push and show all that I was able to do in Europe and and bring it back with me to Saudi Arabia.
The lure of playing for Al-Ittihad, the oldest sports club in Saudi Arabia, was strong for Benzema. Explaining his decision to swap life in Madrid for Jeddah, he said: “It’s one of the top clubs in Saudi Arabia. It’s a club that sees a lot of passion from its fan and has many trophies.
“I would really like to further elevate the club. 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 best on the field.”
Benzema’s signing is part of a new phase in brand-building for the SPL, aimed at generating greater global awareness, engaging more Saudi football fans across society, and encouraging greater community participation in sports, as part of Vision2030, the ambitious transformational plan. Over the last season of the Saudi Pro League, Al-Ittihad Club welcomed over 600,000 fans, more than any other club in the league and was watched from 48 different channels and platforms across 170 countries.
The striker hopes it will have an impact on football fans all over the country. He said: “The message for all the young people who play football, who love football is to build their dreams, to work hard, to respect the rules of the game, which means respecting the human being, and to always have pleasure in playing football. And never give up; we can always achieve when we put in the work.”
On whether his high-profile signing will encourage more women to participate in football, he added: “Football is important for everyone - for women, for men and we see it even in Europe, they have female teams including the Champions League. It’s important to be supportive, and therefore whether it’s men or women, we are here to support. For women, I’m happy to be part of this family.”
Aside from football, Benzema admitted he had other reasons for moving to Saudi Arabia, stating his Muslim faith as playing a big part in the decision.
“I feel people already like me. And it will allow me to have a new life,” he said. “I would like to learn Arabic and speak fluently, it’s important for me. I’ve already been to Saudi Arabia, Mecca is very close (to Jeddah) and as a believer it’s important for me, this is where I will feel at my best and in my element.
The French star touched down at Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport late Wednesday, June 7 ahead of his official unveiling in Saudi Arabia.