In what would be one of the biggest deals ever seen in sporting history, the Saudi Arabian government is reportedly in talks with Lionel Messi’s representatives to bring him to the Saudi Pro League.
The Telegraph reports Messi’s father, Jorge, is leading discussions with the Saudi government over the potential switch. But former club Barcelona is desperate to bring the World Cup champion back to Spain despite their financial constraints.
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The Argentinian superstar’s contract with European heavyweights Paris Saint-Germain expires at the end of the 2022/23 season and the Saudi government is prepared to pounce.
The report claims the overall financial package for Messi would be worth an eye-watering $AUD602 million annually, eclipsing longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo’s annual salary of $310 million with Al-Nassr.
Messi’s potential move to the Saudi Pro League would reignite his rivalry with Ronaldo which dominated world football when the pair were at Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.
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The World Cup winner appeared set to extend his deal with PSG, however a recent unsanctioned trip to Saudi Arabia has all but confirmed he won’t be signing on.
Messi is an ambassador for the Saudi Tourism Authority (STA) and paid a visit to honour his contractual obligations, but he did not receive permission from PSG to make the journey.
The French club subsequently fined him two weeks wages and suspended him for the same amount of time.
Sky Sports reports PSG has no intention of taking up the third-year option in Messi’s original contract.
Should Saudi Arabia be able to woo Messi and secure his signature for a Saudi Pro League team, it would be a massive coup that gets them one over Qatar amid simmering tensions in the Middle East as Qatar also owns PSG via the Qatar Sports Investment Vehicle.
It would also be another power play by Saudi Arabia as they prepare a bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2030.
But Messi reportedly hopes to continue playing at the highest level, with a European club more likely than Saudi Arabia or the MLS with cashed-up Inter Miami.
A return to Barcelona for one final season has long been mooted, with Foot Mercato today reporting the Catalan club is confident of bringing their favourite son back to Camp Bou.
But Barcelona are at the limits of their salary spend under Financial Fair Play rules and would have to offload players to afford the Argentina superstar.
Barcelona manager Xavi – a former teammate of Messi’s – last week told media it was “too soon” to speak publicly about a potential return.
He said: “When it comes to Leo, we don’t know if it will happen or not. It’s too soon to talk about it.
“Winning the title is very important to us, for the club, the staff and the players. It would give us a lot of stability.
“As for new players arriving, we will talk about it once we’ve won LaLiga.”