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HomeWorld‘Done deal’? Rumours of Messi leaving PSG for Saudi Arabia abound

‘Done deal’? Rumours of Messi leaving PSG for Saudi Arabia abound

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Considered one of the greatest football players ever, Lionel Messi is widely rumoured to be leaving Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) for an unnamed Saudi Arabian club, with a source telling AFP it’s a “done deal”. This would mark the end of an era, with the Argentine legend leaving football’s top tier for a desert kingdom now lavishing its oil wealth on sport.

Messi will sign a “huge” deal with an as-yet-unnamed club, said the source, who is close to the negotiations that are taking place just months after the 35-year-old lifted the World Cup in Qatar.

“Messi is a done deal. He will play in Saudi Arabia next season,” the source told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The contract is exceptional. It’s huge. We are just finalising some small details,” added the source, who was not authorised to speak to media. 

There was no confirmation from Messi’s current club PSG, which noted simply that he was under contract until June 30 when contacted by AFP. 

A separate PSG source told AFP: “If the club had wanted to renew his contract, it would have been done earlier.”

The anonymous reports add to the rumours about a Messi move to Saudi that have been circulating ever since PSG suspended him last week for an unauthorised mid-season trip to the desert kingdom, where he is a tourism ambassador.      

Just five years after lifting the ban on women drivers and allowing the first non-Muslim tourists to visit, Saudi Arabia is attempting to open up its ultra-conservative society and diversify its oil-reliant economy.

The world’s biggest oil exporter has thrown hundreds of millions at sports deals including signing Ronaldoholding the F1 in Jeddah and the divisive LIV Golf tour, drawing frequent claims it is “sportswashing” its human rights record.

‘Not a specific club’ 

Messi’s expected arrival follows in the footsteps of ex-Manchester United and Real Madrid great Cristiano Ronaldo – the only player to challenge’s Messi’s status as the greatest in the contemporary game. Ronaldo joined Saudi Pro League club Al Nassr in a massive deal in January, ending his second, far less gilded spell at Old Trafford.

Ronaldo’s agreement to June 2025 is said to total more than €400 million ($439 million), making him the world’s highest-paid athlete, according to Forbes.

Both deals are being bankrolled by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), one of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth funds, the AFP source said.

PIF also backed the takeover of Premier League side Newcastle United, which saw Saudi money pour into the previously under-performing team, which boasts one of the most committed fan bases in English football.

The Messi talks “didn’t take as much time as the ones with Ronaldo as we now know the recipe to contract world-class players”, the source told AFP.

“It’s Saudi Arabia that brought him, not a specific club. The money comes from one place – PIF.”

Despite several reports linking Messi with Al Hilal, one of the top Saudi teams, club sources told AFP they had not been in direct contact.

“He is a player at the end of his career and he is not here only for football. He is here to secure international attraction for the kingdom,” the source said.

“The plan is not only Messi and Ronaldo, the plan is to bring glorious players like these two and also upcoming youth players who have a promising future.”

“We want people to visit Saudi Arabia to watch football stars,” the source added. “Who could imagine that local league matches would attract foreigners? It’s just the Ronaldo impact.”

PSG protesters

Messi, who turns 36 in June, has had two disappointing seasons in Paris after an extraordinary time at Barcelona where he won four Champions League and 10 La Liga titles and is still worshipped by the fans.

The record seven-time world player of the year, joining an attacking trio also featuring Kylian Mbappé and Neymar, scored just 11 goals in his first season as he helped PSG to a routine Ligue 1 title.

But the trio had nothing on Messi’s partnership with Uruguay’s Luiz Suarez that made Barcelona sparkle for years.

While Ligue 1 titles are to be expected, Qatari-owned PSG have gotten no closer to a coveted first Champions League victory, bowing out twice in the last 16 even with the illustrious Argentine in their line-up.

Fans’ frustrations boiled over last week at the team’s Paris headquarters when black-clad PSG protesters let off flares and sang hostile chants targeting the underperforming Messi, Neymar and Italian midfielder Marco Verratti.

The angry scenes contrasted with Messi’s career-crowning moment in December, when he led Argentina to a victory over France in the most enthralling World Cup final of recent years. This win in Qatar against Les Bleus, including a dazzling Mbappé, filled the only gap in Messi’s resume – especially given that the other two players considered the greatest of all time, Pelé and Diego Maradona, had both lifted the trophy.

Saudi Arabia has held talks with Egypt and Greece about a joint World Cup bid, according to officials. In coming years it will hold the men’s Asian Cup football tournament, the Asian Games and even the Asian Winter Games on artificial snow.

State-owned Saudi Aramco announced quarterly profits on Tuesday of $31.9 billion – more than three-quarters of the incomes of Western oil giants BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron and TotalEnergies combined.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

This story originally appeared on France24

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