JEDDAH: Over 50,000 Al-Ittihad fans turned out to catch their first glimpse of Karim Benzema wearing his new black and yellow, number nine jersey, at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium on Thursday, as part of the Saudi League champions’ official team presentation.
The former Real Madrid forward and Ballon d’Or holder signed for three seasons to play for Al-Ittihad, in a contract worth an estimated $215 million a year.
The 35-year-old striker was introduced amid enthusiastic chants from Al-Ittihad supporters.
With fireworks exploding around him, Benzema emerged on the pitch to present fans with the moment they had been waiting for since the announcement was made on Tuesday.
The Frenchman lapped up the adulation from his new home crowd — juggling a ball, waving, blowing kisses and tossing balls into the crowd.
Expectations are high that, with the addition of Benzema, Al-Ittihad will have a shot at competing for both the Saudi Pro League and the Asian Champions League.
The player, who attended a press conference with Abdul Wahab Abid, the CEO of Al-Ittihad, said he was excited at the prospect of playing for the club and winning titles.
He said that playing with “such a great team makes me (want) to work hard” and “put a smile” on the faces of all the fans.
Asked why he chose Al-Ittihad, he added: “I am proud to be here in Saudi Arabia with such a team with (such a) great reputation.” He said his family was happy to be in the Kingdom.
Abid told journalists the club was proud to have signed such a legendary player. “I believe we are lucky to bring Benzema to Saudi Arabia to represent our club. We are looking forward to seeing him on the field with his teammates to bring more glory locally and internationally,” he said.
Benzema won 25 trophies and scored 353 goals in 647 appearances to become Real’s second all-time top scorer after Cristiano Ronaldo.
His first appearance for Real Madrid in 2009 was against Al-Ittihad during the Friendly Peace Tournament held in Madrid.