Karim Benzema poised for a crucial transfer meeting with Arsenal and Chelsea, heightening tension
Karim Benzema is said to have scheduled talks with Saudi football officials as speculation of an Al-Ittihad exit remains rife amid links with Arsenal and Chelsea.
The Frenchman is reportedly unhappy in Saudi following his summer switch from Real Madrid and is thought to be eyeing a move back to Europe. One sticking point, though, could be discussions about wages.
Benzema is on an astronomical salary at Al-Ittihad, reported to be over £85m a year, and is unlikely to get such lofty figures anywhere in Europe mid-season as clubs battle Financial Fair Play. It’s therefore more likely that an initial loan back to Europe is sanctioned.
Arsenal are in need of a striker, despite Mikel Arteta’s coy stance over transfer targets. However, the Gunners would need to think carefully about a pursuit of Benzema given the Premier League’s strict Profit & Sustainability rules, whereby hefty wages could impact summer activity.
Meanwhile, Chelsea splashed a combined £82m on Nicolas Jackson and Christopher Nkunku over the summer but also still require a finisher, with the former yet to convince and the latter struggling with injury problems.
Todd Boehly has been able to stay within FFP regulations despite his mass turnover of players since his arrival, but the arrival of Benzema would test the wage budget limits. Benzema, now 36, may wish to move to a club with more chances of silverware this season, anyway.
Nevertheless, Saudi Pro League bosses are said to be doing everything they can to prevent one of their star names from leaving, says journalist Fabrizio Romano. League officials are trying to convince Benzema to stay in the country, even if it means switching teams.
Four of Saudi’s biggest outfits – Al-Ittihad, Al-HIlal, Al-Nassr and Al-Ahli – are run by the same firm, the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), which owns Newcastle. In November, Premier League clubs against implementing a temporary ban on loans between clubs with the same owner, meaning Newcastle are theoretically free to bring in Benzema.
Newcastle have FFP concerns of their own, though, and such a move for Benzema has never been mooted. A switch to a Saudi rival seems more likely, albeit that will likely not solve Benzema’s unrest in the gulf state.
Talks between Saudi league officials and Benzema are set to be ‘tense’. A number of star names have been linked with a return to Europe while Jordan Henderson completed his switch from Al-Ettifaq to Ajax last week.
Benzema has 12 goals in 20 matches this season but Al-Ittihad langusih in seventh in the Saudi Pro League, 25 points off leaders Al-Hilal.