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SPORTS | 09-05-2023 09:18

Report: Messi's move to Saudi Arabia a 'done deal'

Lionel Messi will play in Saudi Arabia next season after signing a "huge" deal with the nation's Public Investment Fund, a source close to the negotiations claims.

Lionel Messi will play in Saudi Arabia next season after signing a "huge" deal, a source close to the negotiations told the AFP news agency on Tuesday.

"Messi is a done deal. He will play in Saudi Arabia next season," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity and without naming the club.

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

Asked about the comments, Messi's current club Paris Saint-Germain simply noted he remains under contract until June 30.

A separate PSG source said: "If the club had wanted to renew his contract, it would have been done earlier."

The 35-year-old World Cup winner was suspended by Qatari-owned PSG last week for an unauthorised trip to Saudi, where he is a tourism ambassador.

Messi's expected arrival in the oil-rich kingdom follows in the footsteps of his arch-rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who joined Saudi Pro League club Al Nassr in a massive deal in January.

Ronaldo's agreement to June 2025 is said to total more than 400 million euros (US$439million), 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 with more than $620 billion in assets, the source said.

"The negotiations didn't take as much time as the ones with Ronaldo. As we now know the recipe to contract world-class players," said the source. "It's Saudi Arabia that brought him not a specific club. The Money comes from one place – PIF." 

Ronaldo's arrival has not had the impact Al Nassr would have hoped for on the pitch. They have lost top spot in the Saudi Pro League table and are out of the running in the King's Cup and Super Cup. French coach Rudi García departed in April.

 

PSG protesters

Messi, who turns 36 in June, 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.

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

But PSG have got no closer to a coveted maiden Champions League victory, bowing out twice in the last 16 even with the illustrious Argentine in the line-up.

Frustrations boiled over last week 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 breathless World Cup final victory over Mbappé and France in Doha to fill the biggest gap in his resume.

Qatar's emir draped him in a traditional bisht robe at the trophy ceremony, a reminder of the fossil-fuel riches pouring into football and Messi's bank account via PSG.

However, Messi is also a highly paid tourism ambassador for Qatar's neighbours and sometime rivals Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter that is attempting to diversify its largely single-stream economy.

by Haitham El-Tabei, AFP

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