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Real Madrid's French forward Karim Benzema Image Credit: AFP

French football superstar Karim Benzema is following in the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo in accepting a lucrative paypacket to join the Saudi football league, according to the state-run news channel Alekhbariya.

The Real Madrid forward and reigning Ballon d'Or winner is expecting to be paid $300 million a year to play for Jeddah-based Al-Ittihad for two years, according to reports while a source in the Jeddah-based club told AFP on Tuesday that the Real Madrid forward has signed for three years starting next season. His impending transfer to Saudi Arabia also comes amid reports that Riyadh-based Al-Hilal is finalizing a deal to sign Argentinian Lionel Messi for as much as $400 million a year.

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Saudi Arabia is investing billions in sports, art and music as it looks to boost its image on the global stage, attract tourists, and improve quality of life for its citizens.

The announcement of Benzema's move to Saudi Arabia coincided with the government announcing a plan to privatize sports clubs in an effort to attract more investment and make the Saudi Pro League one of the top 10 football leagues in the world and boost the league's revenue from 450 million riyals ($120 million) to 1.8 billion riyals by 2030. Ownership stakes of 75% in four clubs - Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli, Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal - have been transferred to the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund as part of this process.

The PIF, as the wealth fund is known, acquired Newcastle United FC in October 2021, for a deal worth $377 million.