Paris Saint-Germain star Lionel Messi will play in Saudi Arabia next season, a Saudi source close to the negotiations told AFP on Tuesday, calling the contract “huge”.
The departure of the Argentine world champion for the wealthy Gulf kingdom is “a done deal. He will play in Saudi Arabia,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
“The contract is exceptional. He is huge. We are still finalizing a few details, ”she added, without revealing the name of the club concerned.
Asked by AFP, PSG limited itself to recalling that Messi’s contract ran until June 30.
“If the club had wanted to renew his contract, it would have been done sooner”, however slipped another source at the Parisian club. According to this second source, the Argentinian will honor his end of contract as planned and no official communication from the club is to be expected.
Already under contract with the Saudi tourist office to promote it on its social networks, Lionel Messi should find in the local championship the Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo, player of Al-Nassr since the winter transfer window.
Several media have mentioned in recent days the existence of a fabulous offer from rival club Al-Hilal, valued at 400 million euros (around C$590 million) per year to bring in Messi and recreate the mythical rivalry with CR7, when the two players played in the Spanish championship.
“The negotiations did not take as long as with Ronaldo,” said the Saudi source, adding that as with the latter, the financial package came from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund (PIF).
The Portuguese striker’s sensational contract in Saudi Arabia, estimated at 400 million euros until June 2025, made him the highest paid sportsman in the world in 2023, according to the annual ranking of Forbes.
“Attractiveness of the Kingdom”
Messi, who will turn 36 in June, “is a player at the end of his career, and he won’t be here just for football. He will be there to contribute to the attractiveness of the kingdom,” the Saudi source said, stressing the country’s ambition to attract other “big players” as well as young people “with a promising future”.
In February, an official familiar with the matter told AFP that Arabia was also seeking to forge partnerships with Messi to support his candidacy for the organization of a World Cup. A joint candidacy with Egypt and Greece for the 2030 World Cup has been discussed for several months, but has not been formalized.
The oil-rich monarchy, like other Gulf countries, relies in part on sport to diversify its economy and change its image as an ultra-conservative kingdom.
Arabia, which notably hosts Formula 1 and finances the dissident LIV golf circuit, is accused by human rights organizations of carrying out “sportwashing”, a process which allows a country to improve its reputation by sports intermediary.
The country should host in the coming years the Asian football championship, the Asian Games, and even the Asian Winter Games on artificial snow.