The Real Madrid captain played his final game for the club at the weekend amid reports linking him with a summer switch to the Saudi Pro League.
Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has admitted Karim Benzema’s decision to leave the club took him by surprise, describing it as a ‘last-time’ choice.
Prior to Sunday’s final-day 1-1 LaLiga draw against Athletic Bilbao, Real Madrid announced their most decorated player and second-highest scorer of all-time would depart the Santiago Bernabeu this summer.
“His departure was a surprise for everyone, but you have to understand it. It was a last-minute decision,” Ancelotti said about Benzema’s exit in a press conference.
“Yesterday he trained normally and today he made this decision. We understand it. I spoke to him this morning and he said that he was leaving and I understood it. He has done very well with me in these four years and also at the club. For that all my thanks.
“He has thought it through and his decision is part of the transition of this club, which continues and will continue next year. We have time to think about what we have to do. We will have a competitive squad next year.”
‘It has been legendary, something unforgettable’
Benzema scored in his final appearance with a 72nd-minute equalizing penalty, raising his Real Madrid tally to 354 goals in 648 games. He also dished out a further 165 assists in the Spanish capital.
The Frenchman, who joined the club in 2009 from Lyon for a €35 million fee, won 25 trophies. These include a staggering five Champions Leagues, four LaLiga titles, and three Copa del Rey trophies.
“I am sending him off knowing that I have coached one of the best players in the world and one of the best forwards. He is a very kind, humble, and serious person,” Ancelotti added.
“We cannot be happy about his farewell, but we have to respect his decision. He has won the right to choose and we all thank him for what he has been able to do at this club. It has been legendary, something unforgettable, and it will remain forever in the memory of this club.”
Various reports have linked Benzema with a move to Saudi Pro League champions Al-Ittihad.