Real Madrid captain Nacho nears move to Al Ittihad - sources

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Real Madrid captain Nacho Fernández is in advanced talks to join Saudi Arabia's Al Ittihad on a free transfer, multiple sources have told ESPN.

Nacho's contract at Madrid is due to expire on June 30 and, unless there is a late, unexpected change of plans, he is now set to leave the club for the first time in his career.

A source told ESPN that the player had already made the decision to leave by the time Real Madrid beat Borussia Dortmund 2-0 in the Champions League final on June 1, with Nacho lifting the trophy at Wembley as captain.

The 34-year-old defender's future had previously been in doubt in the summer of 2023, but when his departure was considered a certainty, a change of heart saw him extend his contract at Madrid for one more season.

The Spain international's form has been up and down in 2023-24, making 29 appearances in LaLiga, but he finished the season strongly, performing well in Madrid's run to the Champions League final.

There had been suggestions during the campaign that an exit was probable, but increasing doubts over the course of the last month saw Nacho ask the club for time to reflect on his situation.

He had been linked with a move to MLS, but ESPN reported that no final decision had been taken.

Now, multiple sources have confirmed that Nacho is in talks to join Al Ittihad, where he would be reunited with former Madrid teammate Karim Benzema.

A source close to the negotiations told ESPN they were "optimistic" but insisted that an agreement had not yet been reached.

A source close to Real Madrid told ESPN that Nacho had not communicated a decision to the club, but they were assuming the defender would be leaving.

The player had earned the right to decide his future, the source said, although there was also a sense of sadness that Nacho would not end his career as a "one club man" at Madrid.

Nacho is one of an elite group of players -- alongside Madrid's Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Dani Carvajal and Paco Gento -- who have won six European Cups.

He has won a record total -- with Modric -- of 26 trophies with the club.

The defender joined Madrid aged 11 and made his first team debut in the 2012-13 season.

Negotiations with Al Ittihad are not expected to drag on, with an agreement likely in the next two weeks.

The Saudi club finished a disappointing fifth in the league last season and are looking to sign a new coach to replace the Argentinian Marcelo Gallardo.

Nacho is on international duty at Euro 2024, with Spain set to face Croatia in their opening game on Saturday.

Information from ESPN's Alex Kirkland contributed to this report