MADRID, Spain (AFP) – Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema has agreed a deal to leave the club, the Spanish giants said Sunday.
The 35-year-old forward has been heavily linked this week with a lucrative move to Saudi Arabia and Saudi state television channel Al-Ekhbariya reported Sunday that he had signed with Jeddah-based Al-Ittihad.
"Real Madrid and our captain Karim Benzema have agreed to put an end to his brilliant and unforgettable era as a player at our club," said Los Blancos in a statement.
"Madrid want to show their gratitude and all their love to someone who is one of our greatest legends."
The announcement comes after Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti had said Saturday there was "no doubt" about Benzema's future being at Madrid, noting the forward had one more year left on his contract.
And Benzema himself had said "not everything you read on the internet is reality" after reports emerged in the week about his potential departure to Saudi Arabia, where his former Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo is playing for Al Nassr.
According to Al-Ekhbariya, however, the president of Saudi champions Al-Ittihad and his deputy were in Madrid "to officially sign" Benzema in a "record transfer with Real Madrid".
The TV channel said Benzema had agreed a two-year deal with the club, based on the Red Sea shores of the Gulf kingdom.
- Leaving Lyon -
The French forward joined Madrid in 2009 from Ligue 1 side Lyon.
Benzema established himself as a key player alongside Ronaldo and Gareth Bale in the vaunted "BBC" attacking trident, before developing into the team's leader when the Portuguese striker left in 2018.
Benzema has lifted five Champions Leagues, four La Liga titles and three Copas del Rey with Real Madrid and is the current holder of the Ballon d'Or for the world's best player.
He is Real Madrid's second top scorer of all-time, with 353 goals for Madrid, behind only Ronaldo on 450.
Benzema's final appearance for the club could be later Sunday when Madrid host Athletic Bilbao in La Liga at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Madrid confirmed Saturday that Eden Hazard, Marco Asensio and Mariano Diaz are all leaving this summer too, leaving plenty of space for new acquisitions in attack.
Ancelotti avoided talking on Saturday about Madrid's alleged interest in England and Tottenham striker Harry Kane.
"I'm not going to talk about the future of the squad that is in place," said Ancelotti.
"Kane is a great player, he is a Tottenham player, we have to respect the player and Tottenham."
- Rise to glory -
Benzema battled with Gonzalo Higuain for a regular starting spot in his early days at Madrid, and was once derided by then-coach Jose Mourinho for being a "cat" instead of the "hunting dog" he wanted.
While playing alongside Ronaldo, Benzema took the role of supplier and worked hard to provide for his team-mate.
The forward greatly increased his goal output after Ronaldo left, playing centrally, and scored 44 in 46 games last season, a performance that earned him the 2022 Ballon d'Or.
Benzema's most recent conquest was the Copa del Rey in May, with Real Madrid beating Osasuna to lift the Spanish cup for the first time since 2014.
Benzema may cherish last season's Champions League triumph the most of all his successes because he played a crucial role in winning it.
The forward scored a stunning hat-trick to help Madrid come from behind against Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 and progress.
Benzema netted another treble at Stamford Bridge in the quarter-finals against Chelsea and scored the extra-time goal in the second leg which sent his team into the semi-finals.
The forward also scored three goals over two games against Pep Guardiola's Manchester City to help Madrid reach the final, which they won against Liverpool in Paris -- his first Champions League triumph as the team's figurehead.