What an amazing week for Al-Ittihad fans. Days after winning their first Roshn Saudi League title since 2009, French superstar striker Karim Benzema was confirmed to be joining the Jeddah club from Real Madrid.
It is another dream come true for Al-Ittihad followers and a scary prospect for rivals. The team were relentless in their title-winning campaign. Not only did they have the tightest defense with just 13 goals conceded in 30 games, they also had a devastating strike force.
Abderrazak Hamdallah topped the scoring charts with 21 and Brazilians Romarinho and Igor Coronado also stood out. Coach Nuno Santo already has a wealth of talent at his disposal.
Now there is Benzema, one of the most feared strikers in the world, even at the age of 35. He may not be at the peak of his career, but he still has plenty to offer, especially with his status as the most recent recipient of the Ballon d’Or.
He received that coveted individual award — given to the best player in the world — in October of last year after his exploits dug Real Madrid out of a hole more than once as they went on to become the champions of Europe with the Frenchman finishing the Champions League top scorer with 15 goals.
It was the fifth time he has won the biggest prize in club football.
“If you can’t appreciate Benzema’s greatness then you don’t understand football,” said Zinedine Zidane (also linked to a coaching move to Saudi Arabia) and few would disagree.
Benzama’s Champions League medal haul even matches that of Cristiano Ronaldo. The presence of his former Madrid team-mate in Saudi Arabia has made a difference on a personal level. He contacted Ronaldo to ask about life in the country on and off the pitch. The reply must have been positive.
Ronaldo’s move to Riyadh has had a knock-on effect across the globe, with the huge rise in interest in the Saudi Pro League. He signed with Al-Nassr in December, suddenly putting a move to Saudi Arabia on the radar of many big names in world football. He was the first but there were always going to be others following.
The only question was whether they would be players at the highest echelons of the world game. It can safely be said that Benzema is firmly in that category. With the Ballon d’Or holder the first major signing of the summer, it is perhaps a sign of things to come.
Title rivals have to accept Al-Ittihad’s challenge. If the champions are strengthening to such an extent, so early, then others are going to have to make similar moves. Al-Nassr have Ronaldo but fell short at the end and are currently without a head coach. That is going to change soon and given the captain’s stature, the new man is going to need a serious reputation.
Al-Hilal finished third and are also on the hunt for a coach to replace Ramon Diaz. After being banned from the last two transfer windows, there is going to be a lot of activity. Lionel Messi has been heavily linked but there are others such as Sergio Busquets.
Then Al-Shabab are going to invest to try and build on fourth and that is even before Al-Ahli, the other Jeddah powerhouse, who bounced back straight away from their shock relegation, flex their muscles.
Now all know what they are dealing with. Karim Benzema has just made the best team in Saudi Arabia better and has set the scene for a sizzling summer.