Football superstar Lionel Messi is reportedly set to leave Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) after just two seasons with the French champions, with Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal team being his likely destination.
Messi’s existing ties to Saudi Arabia, the lack of clubs elsewhere who could afford him, and the money on the table make it an obvious choice.
A staggering £522million two-year contract with the option of a third has been offered to Messi by Al-Hilal, making him the world’s highest-paid athlete and moving back above Cristiano Ronaldo.
Messi’s father, Jorge, has denied that any decision has been made about his son’s next move.
Messi, who currently earns £103.4m-per-season at PSG, has been in contact with Barcelona, the club where he made his name, over a possible return.
But Barcelona’s financial problems mean they cannot afford him. Interest has also come from Inter Miami, a club in the North American Major League Soccer.
Controversy over playing a role in Saudi ‘sportswashing’ project
Reports of Messi’s move to Al-Hilal have caused controversy, with criticism that he would be playing a role in Saudi Arabia’s ‘sportswashing’ project.
However, Messi has been tied to Saudi Arabia in his role as a tourism ambassador, reportedly netting him £25m-a-year.
Messi’s trip to Saudi Arabia with his wife and two of their three sons was part of his work as a tourism ambassador.
However, when PSG coach Christophe Galtier cancelled a scheduled rest day and called the squad in for extra training, Messi was already en route to the Middle East and unable to turn back.
PSG suspended Messi for two weeks and docked his pay. The suspension came at a sensitive point in negotiations over extending his contract with PSG.
Messi’s rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, in the same league and city
Lionel Messi’s possible move to Al-Hilal raises the intriguing scenario of him playing at a rival club in the same league and the same city as Cristiano Ronaldo next season.
Ronaldo could play for Al-Nassr, who are their local rivals. They were last in direct competition when Messi was at Barcelona and Ronaldo at Real Madrid in Spain at the peak of their powers.
Messi’s first season at PSG was a little slow by his standards, but the current campaign has been very productive, with him scoring 20 times and making 19 goals for team-mates.
PSG are on course to win the league title, but Messi’s hopes of winning the Champions League, the top European prize, ended with defeat to Bayern Munich.
The possible transfer of Lionel Messi to Al-Hilal for £522m has garnered plenty of attention in the football world. While Messi has the option of an extra year at PSG, it is clear that he is headed for a divorce from the club.
Messi’s likely move to Al-Hilal, where he would be reunited with former Barcelona team-mate Xavi, would raise concerns over his playing a role in Saudi Arabia’s ‘sportswashing’ project.
Nevertheless, the prospect of Messi playing at a rival club in the same league and city as Cristiano Ronaldo next season is an exciting one for football fans.