Karim Benzema is exploring his options in the January transfer window after six underwhelming months at Saudi Pro League club Al Ittihad, sources have told ESPN.
The 36-year-old striker is not happy with how his stint in Saudi Arabia is panning out so far, despite the 2022 Ballon d’Or winner having scored 15 goals in 24 matches in all competitions since joining the lucrative league as a free agent.
The club are said to be reluctant to let their prized summer acquisition leave either on loan or in a permanent deal.
However, fellow Saudi Pro League recruit Jordan Henderson stands as an example of a player who has successfully negotiated a release from his contract — in his case, with Al Ettifaq — to force a move away from the Gulf state.
Al Ittihad have struggled this season and are seventh in the table, 25 points behind leaders Al Hilal having collected the title last season. Benzema, who has 2½ years left on his contract, has been criticized by the Saudi media for his performances.
Sources have told ESPN the Premier League could be an option for Benzema, with multiple clubs, including Chelsea, showing interest in the veteran forward.
A return to Real Madrid, where the former France international spent 14 years, is not said to be a possible course of action.
Benzema is still stranded in Mauritius after tropical cyclone Belal hit the area and stopped all flights coming in and out of the island. Al Ittihad are in a training camp in Dubai, and Benzema will join the squad and manager Marcelo Gallardo once he is able to.
Earlier this week, Benzema filed a defamation lawsuit against France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who accused the star of having links to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Darmanin stated in October that Benzema had “a notorious link” to the Brotherhood — a pan-Arab Islamist group which came to power in Egypt following elections a year after the 2011 popular uprising — because Benzema posted a message of support online for the people of Gaza early into the Israel-Hamas war.
In his complaint, which was filed on Monday with the Court of Justice of the Republic, Benzema firmly denied any links with the Muslim Brotherhood or any member of the organization. The CJR is a special court for cases targeting government ministers.
“[Despite this] the Interior Minister does not hesitate to drag my name through the mud for non-existent links with this organization,” Benzema said in his complaint, adding that he had been portrayed as being “close to the enemy or directly an enemy” and that it was a breach of his honor.
Benzema’s lawyer Hugues Vigier told RTL radio on Tuesday that Benzema — who is Muslim — was a victim of “political exploitation” with considerable consequences to his family.