Barcelona president Joan Laporta said on Monday the club will "do everything possible" to bring Argentine superstar Lionel Messi back in the close season.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward is set to leave in the summer when his contract expires and new La Liga champions Barcelona are hoping to lure their all-time top goalscorer back, despite strong interest from Saudi Arabia.
Messi has had two lacklustre seasons in Paris after a glorious era at Barcelona where he won four Champions League and 10 La Liga titles, and is still worshipped by the fans there.
Laporta said he has spoken with Messi to try and rebuild the relationship between them, which was damaged when he left in 2021.
Messi wanted to stay at Barcelona but the club could not afford to keep him because of debt of over one billion euros (US$1.1 billion).
"I have spoken to Leo to somehow redirect a situation that occurred, in which I had to put the club ahead of everything, even him, who is the best player in the world," Laporta told Catalan regional public television station TV3. "The truth is that it was a very affectionate conversation, very pleasant, and we have also been sending each other messages lately – I congratulated him on the World Cup."
In the early hours of Monday morning after Barcelona won 4-2 at Espanyol to clinch La Liga, Laporta said on Twitch that "we will do everything possible" to sign Messi.
However, speaking on TV3, he was more cautious. "He is a Paris Saint-Germain player and what we will do is improve the team in all areas, we have already worked on that," said Laporta.
"I think it would do me a disservice to talk about these questions about Leo, because he belongs to a team like Paris Saint-Germain, and we have to wait until the end of the season, until it is over and then we can talk more calmly about this."
AFP reported last week that sources close to negotiations said it was a "done deal" that Messi would move to Saudi Arabia next season.
However, Laporta said that despite the money on offer in the Middle East – a reported US$400 million a year – Barcelona could compete for Messi's signature.
"With all due respect to Saudi Arabia, Barça is Barça, and it is his home," added Laporta. "We can compete with everyone. History backs us, the feelings are too strong, we have 400 million fans around the world too."
Barcelona need to make over 200 million euros in savings, or new income, to be able to operate without restrictions under La Liga financial fair play rules.
Al-Hilal boss tight-lipped
Al-Hilal president Fahd Bin Nafel this weekend refused to comment on the possibility of signing Messi, insisting his Saudi Arabian side is "more important than just one player," as fans clamour for the World Cup winner.
"Don't ask me about Messi," Bin Nafel told reporters when asked after Al-Hilal's victory in the King's Cup final in Jeddah on Friday about the Argentine superstar's transfer rumours.
"I will not tell you any news. If anything comes out from our media centre, you will get it."
In another interview on the pitch, as the crowd shouted "Messi, Messi", Bin Nafel said: "The group is more important to me than a player. Any star who comes to our club should know that we are a big club. We aim to improve [the team]… If you focus on one person, you lose the group."
Al-Hilal have been coached by former Argentinian international striker Ramón Díaz since February 2022, after a first stint at the Riyadh-based team between October 2016 and February 2018.
After two unexceptional years at Paris Saint-Germain, the rich oil kingdom of the Gulf offers an "enormous" financial opportunity for the 35-year-old Messi, a source close to the negotiations told AFP on Tuesday in Riyadh.
The deal would mean the record seven-time Ballon d'Or winner potentially joins his arch-rival Cristiano Ronaldo in the Saudi league as the Gulf state lavishes its oil wealth on sport.