In the end, it was a girl of about 6 years who stood with a microphone before Karim Benzema and asked: "Are you going to stay?" The captain of Real Madrid, who did not appear formally in public since the eve of the final of the Spanish Super Cup, in January in Riyadh, had gone on Thursday to a room of the Casino de Madrid, a few steps from the Puerta del Sol, to collect the prize that had been granted by a newspaper, the Marca legend. The question was asked by the girl, and the small auditorium shook off the accumulated tension with applause. Benzema chose to feed an intrigue that has changed these days the step of the club's sports planning for this summer: "At the moment I am here. I enjoy every day, training well, and there is a game this Saturday."
At that point, the host of the event picked up the thread. He suggested that perhaps he should talk more. "Talk about what?" said the Frenchman. "Why am I going to talk about the future if I'm here?" Another girl in the group the organizers had gathered on stage burst into tears. The moderator explained that the tears had been caused by the fear that Benzema, 35, would leave Madrid at the end of the season, and the Frenchman asked her to come closer and hugged her. But when the girl returned to her post, she still covered her face to hide her crying.
The striker definitively dodged the big issue of the moment with a feint that the moderator took for granted: "What speaks is the internet, and reality is not the internet," he closed, leaving all concerns open.
The reality is also the Saudi Minister of Sports, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal. On Wednesday night, when Al Ittihad was celebrating its first league title in 14 years, he was asked about the possible signings of Benzema and Messi by teams in the country: "Wait until we officially announce it. The season just ended today. The clubs, as I said, are the ones who officially announce that news. And, God willing, they will do it in due course." The Frenchman, like the Argentine, has had an offer from the Saudi government for months. There, football currently functions as a strategic state investment.
The authorities finance large operations, such as the hiring of Cristiano Ronaldo in December, and after reaching the agreement it is decided to which club the player is sent. The Portuguese arrived at Al Nassr, while everything indicates that the destination designed for the Argentine, who says goodbye this weekend to PSG, is Al Hilal. That way, the league could look like a local derby in Riyadh that again faces Cristiano and Messi. For Benzema, they have thought of Al Ittihad, from Jeddah, coached by the Portuguese Nuno Espírito Santo.
Beyond what can circulate through certain catacombs of the internet, the expectation of Benzema's arrival is very present in the Saudi city that celebrated the championship on Wednesday. They also asked the club's vice president, Ahmed Kaaki, who assured a television camera that they would make a big international contract.
In the offices of Madrid the existence of the offer has been known for some time, but they conducted themselves with the certainty that the Frenchman would remain at home for the last 14 seasons. Until the days surrounding the Champions League semifinal tie against Manchester City. Then, a source with access to the dressing room already conveyed doubts about its continuity. And that only a few days before, just after winning the Copa del Rey, still on the grass of La Cartuja, a microphone of the Cope stole a few seconds on the fly, in which the Frenchman seemed to clear any doubt about whether he would continue another year: "Of course. Let's see, hopefully everyone stays." Everyone was Kroos and Modric, who have confirmed to the club that they extend their contracts by one year, until June 2024.
But after Seville the Saudi runrún was revived. Madrid knew that Benzema was in talks with the Arab authorities, but several club sources said that the player was not keeping them abreast of developments. They attributed it to the peculiar character of French, abstracted. But they understood it. They have become accustomed to the behavior of a guy who for the president, Florentino Pérez, is "like a son."
Some sources even transmitted that they understood that the Frenchman could end his passage through the highest competitive level, after having won everything and going through a year full of physical difficulties that have contributed to his level moving away from the one that took him to the Ballon d'Or last season. Other sources close to the locker room considered that a possible voluntary departure could help refresh without trauma a position that has faltered this course.
There were no major obstacles for Benzema to fly to Arabia. Until the last hours, when from the club they have indicated that the Frenchman has a contract in force until June 30, 2024, and not until this month, as it was known according to the public communications of Madrid. Benzema signed at the end of last year an extension of one year, months before receiving the Golden Ball. The lack of information, which they previously tolerated, is now a nuisance: neither the footballer, nor any Saudi club or institution have called Valdebebas. And Madrid is at the beginning of June facing the vertigo of losing its first striker and its fourth top scorer, Marco Asensio, who will not renew and has a very advanced contract with PSG.
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