France’s World Cup-winning midfielder N’Golo Kante has joined Saudi Arabian champions Al Ittihad, the club said in a statement on Wednesday, joining up with compatriot Karim Benzema.
“Kante is an Ittihad player now!” the club said in a statement on Twitter, while chairman Anmar al-Hailee tweeted: “Welcome to our new tiger Kante,” a reference to the team’s nickname.
The industrious midfielder, who won the World Cup with France in 2018, becomes the latest in a line of European stars choosing to ply their trade in Saudi Arabia.
His club career also glitters. He won the Champions League and World Club Cup with Chelsea, as well as back-to-back Premier League titles with Leicester City and Chelsea.
“Kante has signed a three-year contract with the club,” the Jeddah-based team said in a statement that offered no details on the contract’s monetary value.
“Kante’s addition to Al-Ittihad is considered one of the most high-profile and impactful signings in the club’s history. It is part of the club’s efforts to establish itself as a top choice for world-class players in the Saudi Professional League.”
The 32-year-old’s arrival follows that of former Real Madrid star Benzema, who joined Al-Ittihad earlier this month.In a video posted online by the club, Benzema said in a message to his fellow Frenchman: “One time I told you, you’re the best player, box to box, in the world. Now I’m happy to play with you again, and of course in the best team in Saudi.”
Kante said he was “very excited to play for the Tigers”.
The kingdom’s league had already signed up Cristiano Ronaldo, who joined Al-Nassr in January.
His fellow Portuguese international Ruben Neves, formerly of Wolves, is reportedly set to join Al Hilal.
With its oil riches, Saudi Arabia, the conservative Gulf monarchy frequently targeted over its human rights record, has swiftly achieved a prominent role in world sports, dishing out billions of dollars in the process.
In football, the presumed goal is hosting the World Cup, which is intended to lift Saudi Arabia’s profile and prestige as it tries to diversify its oil-reliant economy by attracting tourists and investors.
In the coming years, Saudi Arabia will organise the men’s Asian Cup football, the Olympic-style Asian Games and even the Asian Winter Games in 2029.