Livescore Friday, April 12

Sunday evening saw Karim Benzema say understated goodbyes to Real Madrid in a way that avoided all the usual fanfare when legendary figures leave their clubs close to the end of their careers.

It was quite in keeping both with the Frenchman’s reserved character and how great players often depart the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.

After some days of great confusion, commotion and possible deception over Benzema’s future, Madrid confirmed on Sunday morning that he was leaving — allowing the 35-year-old to take up a lucrative offer to join a Saudi Arabian club.

He then marked his 648th and final game as a Real Madrid player by scoring his 354th goal for Los Blancos, later receiving a standing ovation as he was substituted in a 1-1 La Liga draw with Athletic Bilbao.

On the final whistle, there was more acclaim from the stands for Benzema. Still, he did not speak to any media afterwards to explain his decision, even though everyone now knows why he is going when another 12 months at Madrid would have been possible.

Benzema has certainly been a success at Madrid — in the 14 seasons since joining from Lyon for £30million ($37.1m) in summer 2009, he has won 25 trophies, including five Champions League and four La Liga titles.

So everyone at the Bernabeu on Sunday evening, including coach Carlo Ancelotti and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, were keen after the game to say they respected the decision and wished him the best for the future.

But it was still quite a strange and muted farewell for Madrid’s second all-time top scorer in both La Liga and the European Cup, a player who for years divided opinion due to perceived indifference and indolence before a late career surge saw him win over the Bernabeu hardcore and then take last year’s Ballon d’Or award.

The idea the Frenchman had a super-lucrative offer to move to Saudi Arabia this summer has been present around the club for months. Doubts over his intentions persisted — especially as Benzema himself kept avoiding any press appearances where he might get asked about his future.

His most recent press conference as a Madrid player came back in January’s Spanish Supercopa, played in Saudi Arabia, where he dodged various such questions, but did say he believed his former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo had made a good decision in moving to the Gulf country.

The only other occasion Benzema spoke to the media was after lifting the Copa del Rey trophy in early May when, in reference to fellow veterans Luka Modric and Toni Kroos also being out of contract at the end of the season, he said: “Of course I am staying, all of us are.”

That was not enough to end the regular speculation. Madrid falling way behind Barcelona in the La Liga title race and their 5-1 aggregate elimination by Manchester City in the Champions League also kept alive the idea that big changes were coming.

The club captain not fronting up to talk on the night Madrid were knocked out at City was not well received around the Bernabeu. His own form had also dipped amid continuing physical issues. Benzema ends the season with 30 goals in all competitions, but his contribution was limited on the biggest occasions.

So, as the 2022-23 campaign moved towards an end, uncertainty remained — over the future of Benzema and another six Madrid players whose contracts were about to expire.

Things were handled differently at Barcelona, where veterans Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets had already announced their exits in the final weeks of the campaign. Both Catalans would ideally like to stay, but agreements were reached so they could share emotional farewells with the Blaugrana fans at their final game at the Camp Nou.

At Madrid, any tears are generally wept in private. There have been many awkward departures of legendary Blancos figures during Florentino Perez’s two terms as president: from Vicente del Bosque, Fernando Hierro and Raul during his first term in charge, to Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo in more recent years.

But Benzema’s exit has not been as coldly handled by Perez — perhaps due to the president’s surprisingly close personal relationship with the Frenchman.

That backing through 14 seasons included selling Gonzalo Higuain to clear a path to the No 9 jersey and not strongly pursuing Erling Haaland when the Norwegian might well have chosen Madrid over Manchester City. Perez also offered personal and institutional support during Benzema’s troubles with the French national team due to the Mathieu Valbuena sex-tape affair.

Benzema repaid that support by stepping up after Ronaldo left to become the team’s key attacker — culminating in his 15 Champions League goals as Madrid won that competition last season.

This led to Benzema winning the Ballon d’Or last October and the personal relationship was again clear. “(Perez) is like a member of my family,” Benzema said at the ceremony in Paris. The night was also vindication for the Madrid president having ignored all those — from Jose Mourinho to the Bernabeu crowd — who had wanted the striker replaced over the years.

But, at the Bernabeu, everyone knows it is all just business in the end. The only conversation that really counted last week was when Benzema met with Perez at Madrid’s training ground for their only face-to-face talk over his future. An offer to continue was possible but only by staying close to his current salary, which is only a fraction of the reported €200m for two years’ work on offer from Saudi Arabia.

By Thursday, The Athletic was assured by multiple sources that Benzema would leave to accept the Saudi offer. Even still, he did not want to give a definite public answer. At a Marca awards ceremony in the Spanish capital that evening, he awkwardly denied he was definitely leaving, with a young girl on the stage bursting into tears due to the tension in the air.

At Saturday’s post-match news conference, Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti was still insisting Benzema had another year left on his contract — appearing to confirm reports that winning the Ballon d’Or had tied the two sides together for another 12 months. That also meant that just as when Ronaldo and Ramos left, it was likely the club president who had ultimate responsibility for the coolly rational decision.

The Bernabeu hierarchy and the coaching staff are aware that the team’s attack needs new impetus. Tottenham’s England captain Harry Kane fits the bill for many reasons — a world-class goalscorer who is also very attractive to fans and sponsors in English-speaking markets.

So the mood at the Bernabeu on Sunday evening was not nearly as celebratory as last weekend at the Camp Nou, when Busquets and Alba got to share tearful goodbyes with their team-mates, their families and their team’s supporters after a 3-0 victory over Real Mallorca.

Before his goal, there were a few scattered chants of “Karim, Karim Benzema”, but nothing big was orchestrated by the official fans groups who are generally in tune with the club hierarchy’s preferred narratives.

Then, with 20 minutes remaining, Madrid were awarded a penalty and there were big cheers all around as Benzema calmly slotted it down the centre and was hugged by his team-mates.

Ancelotti took advantage to immediately substitute the striker and there was a standing ovation as he left the pitch in the 74th minute — the right hand with the trademark white bandage beat the Madrid badge on his chest and there was a hug from Ancelotti and handshakes with team-mates on the bench.

On the final whistle, the Madrid players and subs went onto the pitch to circulate together. Benzema stayed by the bench, embracing physios, assistant coaches and other staff. Ancelotti directed him to the centre circle, where he was accompanied by his young son Ibrahim.

Now came the first real choral chants of “Karim, Karim, Karim Benzema” around the stadium. Marco Asensio, who is set to leave for Paris Saint-Germain, was also acclaimed from the stands. Unused substitutes Eden Hazard and Mariano Diaz were barely noticed in their last Bernabeu appearances.

After the game, Ancelotti said he had only learned for sure Benzema was leaving that morning. The Italian was then asked whether Benzema’s late decision meant there had been no time to organise a more fitting goodbye for a player who had given so much to the club.

“I don’t know, I don’t think it was cold,” Ancelotti said. “I believe the club will prepare an event for him in the coming days. We have to take into account Karim’s character, he is very shy, does not like the spotlight. He has preferred to say goodbye (this way) to the Bernabeu.”

That event is due to be held at Madrid’s training ground on Tuesday, but there has been no confirmation yet that Benzema will even take questions from the media. It would be a pity for one of Madrid’s all-time greatest players to have such a subdued exit, without even speaking to the club’s fans about all the time they have shared together.

But it would also be fitting — both for a player who has always maintained he does not care too much what other people think and for the club’s coldly calculating way of making decisions.

Maybe that is why Benzema and Perez connected so well, despite coming from such very different backgrounds. For both, it is never personal, always just business.

(Top photo: Tabitha Anghel/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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