Karim Benzema
Karim Benzema received the Ballon d'Or in 2022 AFP / FRANCK FIFE

In an unexpected turn of events, Saudi Pro League side Al-Ittihad are reportedly facing a crisis as a conflict brews between new signing Karim Benzema and their manager, Nuno Espirito Santo.

Benzema shocked the football when he chose to snub a contract extension from Spanish giants Real Madrid and instead decided to join the Saudi Arabian champions earlier this summer. The former Real Madrid captain's arrival led to an influx of other big names from across Europe to the Saudi Pro League.

However, the current Ballon d'Or holder has not had a fairytale start to his career in the Middle East. Even though his opening performances on the pitch have been good, scoring three goals in four games in the Arab Club Champions Cup, news has exploded that he is in the middle of a "tense conflict" with his new manager.

According to local Saudi outlet Asharq Al-Aswat, Nuno does not think that Benzema's style of play suits his tactical system and is already considering dropping the superstar from the starting line-up. He has reportedly informed the club's board about his plans.

Benzema, who earns £3.3million-a-week at Al-Ittihad, did not score in his first two Saudi Pro League games with Al-Ittihad. However, they did manage to win those games, with the Frenchman providing an assist in the 3-0 victory over Al-Raed. On Thursday, Benzema finally opened his league account for the club by scoring their opening goal in a decisive 4-0 win against Al-Riyadh in the third round.

It is now being reported that Nuno, who led the club to the Saudi Pro League title last season, did not ask for Benzema to be signed in the first place. He has apparently not hidden his feelings from the player, who is said to be alleging that he is being treated in an unprofessional manner by the manager.

Tensions in the dressing room are growing, and it remains to be seen if the club's owners will allow Nuno to bench a player who they spent a massive fortune on.

Club captaincy dispute

Benzema left Europe as captain of the world's biggest club, and it is understood that he had included the captaincy of Al-Ittihad as part of his personal terms during his contract negotiations. However, Nuno decided to go in a different direction, awarding the captaincy to club legend Romarinho instead.

This did not go down well with Benzema, and some reports are already claiming that he has gone as far as skipping training sessions in order to protest. However, in a surprising twist, Benzema was seen donning the captain's armband for the first time on Thursday night when they went up against Al-Riyadh.

This could be a sign that Nuno has given in after all, and Benzema managed to prove his worth by scoring his first league goal in the 17th minute.

Al-Ittihad is faced with a big decision

Nuno led the club to the league trophy last season, giving him a certain level of authority. However, Al-Ittihad has invested €600 million on a two-and-a-half year deal for Benzema, meaning they would not be keen on letting the manager axe him from the starting lineup.

Fans are understandably outraged as well, with many siding with Benzema amid the alleged dispute. "If a 5x champions league winner doesn't fit into his style, then maybe Nuno has no style," said one social media user.

It is clear that Al-Ittihad will be missing out if they don't make full use of such a prolific striker whom they signed merely two months ago. It is unclear if they see sacking Nuno as an option either, considering how well he has served the club thus far.

Meanwhile, the club is being linked with a move for Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah. There is no love lost between Salah and Benzema thanks to the epic clashes between Liverpool and Real Madrid in recent years, and it remains to be seen if the Egyptian's transfer will push through. If it does, one has to wonder if it will only lead to even more conflicts in the Al-Ittihad dressing room.