Karim Benzema said leaving Real Madrid “hurts” at a goodbye ceremony Tuesday ahead of his move to Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad.
The 35-year-old forward has signed for the Jeddah-based side on a three-year deal starting next season, a source at the Saudi club told AFP on Tuesday.
“It’s a bit of a sad day, because I am leaving this club, it hurts me, because I had a dream in my head - to sign for Madrid, and finish at Madrid, but sometimes life gives you other opportunities,” said Benzema in a speech during his farewell at Madrid’s training ground.
“I will always watch Madrid’s games, and thanks to the fans too, who pushed me on to play good games.”
The French forward signed for Madrid in 2009 from Ligue 1 side Lyon. Benzema made 648 appearances for Madrid and is second on Real’s all-time goalscoring list with 354 -- only Ronaldo has more.
He won five Champions Leagues, four La Liga titles and three Copas del Rey and is the current Ballon d’Or holder.
Benzema said he was grateful to Real Madrid president Florentino Perez for signing him.
“When I saw you, I said this is the man who brought Zizou (Zinedine Zidane) and Ronaldo, now he wants me in his team,” said Benzema. “I will never forget Real Madrid, it’s the best club in the world, in history, but now is the moment to leave and to see another story.”
Perez thanked Benzema for his efforts.
“Today it’s not just another player going, today we’re saying goodbye to one of the most incredible players in our history,” said the president. “Thank you for all you have given us, you arrived here as a boy and today, you leave as one of our legends.”
The striker did not mention where he would play next season but a source at Al-Ittihad told AFP earlier Tuesday that Benzema had “signed a contract for his transfer for a three-year period”.
If the move is confirmed, Benzema will join his former Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo in the Gulf kingdom after the five-time world player of the year moved to Al Nassr from Manchester United last year.