Karim Benzema, one of football’s greatest players and with Spanish giants Real Madrid for more than a decade, will join Saudi Arabian champions Al Itihad on a three-year deal in the kingdom’s latest prize money deal. agreed. It is rapidly expanding its ambitions and influence in the sport.
French striker Benzema, 35, made the decision to move to Saudi Arabia President Al-Ittihad confirmed on Tuesday A few days after rumors. An unusual choice for a player still recognized as elite talent in one of Europe’s top leagues, his acquisition may not be the last high-profile deal by the Saudi league. The Saudi League has turned the kingdom into a major player in global football, capitalizing on the seemingly bottomless wealth of a state-controlled public investment fund that is undertaking multi-billion dollar projects with its backing.
Benzema’s arrival comes just months after another Saudi club signed another star, Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo, in one of the most expensive deals in football history.
Between other large tent player The Saudi league is said to be targeting Lionel Messi, who helped Argentina win the World Cup in Qatar in December. Interviews with agents, Saudi sports officials and consultants hired to implement the project said the salaries offered to the players were among the highest in sports history. All spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations are private.
Saudi officials hope the presence of stars like Ronaldo and Benzema will persuade dozens of more successful players in Europe’s top leagues to join them. The signing is part of an ambitious plan to increase the profile of the Saudi League and Saudi Arabia’s standing in world sports and change perceptions of Saudi Arabia, backed by the highest level of the Saudi state and funded by the Public Investment Fund. . world stage.
While similar in scale and ambition to the Saudi-funded campaign to dominate professional golf through the year-old LIV Golf Series, the football effort has long been on the backburner of the domestic league. is an intensive plan to transform the country into a destination for elite talent.
The deal for Benzema came just days after the match against Saudi Arabia Transferred ownership The PIF has announced that a fund from the government has acquired 75 per cent ownership of each of the four major clubs in the Saudi Premier League. Al Nasr hiring Ronaldo. And Al Ahly and Al Hilal. They are one of the biggest and most popular clubs in Saudi football.
These four clubs are expected to be the main beneficiaries of the PIF’s renewed focus on raising the profile of the league. However, the joint ownership of these clubs by the Foundation is already a sport, as the rules of football’s world governing body FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation prohibit the same owner from managing multiple clubs in the same competition. raises questions about the integrity of Saudi officials said this week they had taken steps to ensure that the PIF-affiliated teams would comply with those regulations, but provided no evidence that such safeguards were in place.
The country’s involvement in football began after the stunning performance of the Saudi Arabian national team at last year’s World Cup, when the team scored a stunning victory over Argentina. The stated goal of the project is to make the Saudi Pro League, the country’s top division, one of the top 10 national leagues in the world. While the league is unlikely to become a true rival to the established leagues in Europe or elsewhere, the PIF’s resources have destabilized the multi-billion dollar global player market, and the top talent worldwide. may increase the price of
The plan to buy a foothold in world football is reminiscent of similar plans a decade ago, when China acquired players and European clubs at big sums. That plan, undermined by contract cancellations, an economic meltdown and the coronavirus pandemic, now appears to be in reverse.
Saudi officials say the project has broader objectives than just dozens of showcase signs. The government sees sports as a promising area of diversification for the Saudi economy, and officials say the increased importance of sports will help tackle the country’s obesity problem.
The Saudi plan will start with a strong financial base. PIF has already signed 20-year commercial deals worth tens of millions of dollars with the clubs it currently manages, and also sponsors the league itself through one of the companies in its portfolio, Real League. Real estate developer Roshun.
One of the people briefed on the plan to bring foreign stars to the league said the goal is for each of the big four teams to field three top foreign players, plus eight players for the remaining 12 teams. It is said that it is to be distributed to spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss it publicly.
Critics of Saudi Arabia have accused the country of spending heavily on sports as an attempt to improve its image abroad and divert attention from its human rights record. Saudi officials have repeatedly denied these allegations.
It is unclear when Benzema will arrive in Jeddah, home of Al Ittihad, now that he has committed his future to a country with a rich football history and a strong following of the sport.
But one thing is for sure, every time he does, fans of Al Ittihad, who are known as one of the most passionate fans in the country and are on track to win their latest league title, are welcome. It means the mat is ready to be rolled out.