JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad have reached an agreement with French striker Karim Benzema to sign him on to a two-year deal, Saudi state-run Al Ekhbariya television station reported on Sunday.
Benzema had made a sudden exit from Real Madrid as a free agent earlier on Sunday after 14 years with the club, scoring a farewell penalty in his final La Liga game on Sunday against Athletic Bilbao.
Al Ekhbariya reported that Al-Ittihad’s chairman and vice chairman were in Madrid on Sunday to negotiate a "record deal" with the Ballon d’Or winner. The 35-year-old signed a contract with the Jeddah-based team that will be valid until 2025.
The move comes as Saudi Arabia ramps up a PIF-financed campaign, attracting some of the world’s best football players to join its national league. Saudi clubs are reportedly already approaching players offering record-breaking annual salaries.
A source close to the Saudi Arabian football transfer negotiations told AFP that Karim Benzema and Lionel Messi were on a list of "more than 10" top-level player targets, rumoured to include Luka Modric and Hugo Lloris.
The source said that Saudi authorities are "in contact with more than 10 players, many of them won the World Cup or the Champions League, to join the Saudi league next season".
Reported to be among the World Cup and Champions League winners lined up for the Saudi Pro League are Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, N’Golo Kante, Angel Di Maria and Roberto Firmino.
The potential lucrative deals could require an excess of $1 billion for wages for 20 global players, according to The New York Times.
This week has also continued to see much speculation on seven-time Ballon D’or winner Lionel Messi, whose exit from Paris Saint Germain (PSG) was announced on Thursday.
Riyadh’s Al-Hilal are expected to announce the singing of the 35-year-old Argentinian player on Tuesday in a contact reportedly worth €400million per season, more than what Cristiano Ronaldo is said to be earning at Al-Nassr.
Ronaldo joined the Saudi club Al-Nassr after the 2022 World Cup in a deal reported to be worth $200 million per season.
The huge Saudi investment in sports deals - including Formular One and the LIV golf tour - are part of Vision 2030, a wider plan to diversify the economy away from oil and to heavily invest in other sectors.
Frequent claims of “sportswashing” have been made by human rights groups based on the kingdom’s human rights record.