Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti claimed Karim Benzema’s choice to leave the club after 14 years was a surprise “last-minute” decision made on the final day of the LaLiga season.
Benzema’s departure was announced by the Spanish outfit hours before the striker netted for the final time in Real’s last game of the season on Sunday night, a penalty equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Athletic Bilbao.
It took Real’s most decorated player to 354 goals in 648 appearances and he leaves as the club’s second all-time top scorer after Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ancelotti told a press conference: “His departure was a surprise for everyone, but you have to understand it. It was a last-minute decision. 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.
“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.
“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.”
Oihan Sancet broke the deadlock for the visitors four minutes after the break following a first half which had seen Real keeper Thibaut Courtois keep out Mikel Vesga’s penalty.
The hosts won a spot-kick of their own after Eder Militao was fouled in the box, which Benzema coolly converted after 72 minutes for his final goal with the club.
Two minutes later the 35-year-old was replaced by Luka Modric and was treated to a standing ovation as he left the pitch.
Benzema, the Ballon d’Or holder and current UEFA player of the year joined Real from Lyon in July 2009 for a reported fee of 35 million euros and has been linked with a move to Saudi Arabian side Al-Ittihad.
The former France international won 25 trophies during his time in Madrid.
He is fifth on Real’s all-time appearance list and his trophy haul in Spain includes five Champions Leagues, five Club World Cups, four European Super Cups, four LaLiga titles, three Copa del Rey victories and four Spanish Super Cups.
Courtois paid tribute to his team-mate, telling the club website: “It’s been a pleasure playing with Benzema. He’s an excellent player and a true legend. It’s a shame he’s leaving, but we understand. He has the right to decide his future. I hope it goes well for him and his family.
“Today and yesterday have been days of goodbyes and it’s sad because important players are leaving. We have to thank them greatly, especially Karim, for his career and the trophies he has won with the club. One of the greatest players in Madrid’s history leaves with the Ballon d’Or.”
Earlier in the day Real Madrid released a statement saying the club and Benzema had “agreed to end his brilliant and unforgettable” stay at the Bernabeu.
It added: “Real Madrid would like to show its gratitude and affection to a player who is already one of our greatest legends.
“Karim Benzema’s career at Real Madrid has been a shining example of conduct and professionalism, and he has represented the values of our club.
“Karim Benzema has earned the right to decide his future.
“Madridistas and all the fans around the world have enjoyed his magical and unique football, which has made him one of the great icons of our club and one of the great legends of world football.
“Real Madrid is and will always be his home, and we wish him and all his family the best in this new stage of his life.”
Real have confirmed they will hold “an institutional act of tribute and farewell” to Benzema in the Spanish capital on Tuesday in the presence of club president Florentino Perez.