After Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival in Saudi Arabia following his signing for Al Nassr, the next Saudi target is Lionel Messi.
The Gulf state’s goal is to increase its visibility across the world, encouraging tourism within its border, and one of its main avenues to do so is through sports, with the latest bet being football. In accordance with their aims, the country is looking to host the 2030 World Cup with a joint candidacy alongside Greece and Egypt.
In order to do this, Saudi Arabia needs to improve their renown in the footballing world, and they intend to do so with football’s greatest stars: Ronaldo, who is already in Saudi Arabia, and Messi, who they’ll try to tempt with a large offer.
As per Mundo Deportivo, it’s rumoured in Saudi Arabia that Al Nassr’s great rival Al Hilal wants to secure the signing of the Argentine star. They would be willing to make an offer of no less than $300 million a year. As difficult as it would be to turn down a deal of this size, the World Cup winner would have to accept a move to a vastly different country, where he would be in an unfamiliar environment.
Among the Arab countries, the Saudi league is the most followed and highly ranked, due to its high degree of competitiveness among its teams and its high level for the region. In particular, the teams from Riyadh and Jeddah are considered the best in the league.
The capital boasts the country’s biggest rivalry: Al Nassr and Al Hilal compete in the ‘Riyadh Derby” which is considered the Saudi equivalent of ‘El Clasico’.
Adding Messi to Al Hilal’s ranks would boost the rivalry between the capital’s clubs, creating a clash that would attract the attention of eyes around the world, as well as generally improving the level of the league.
In order to achieve this, the Saudi state would need to conduct a serious investment. During the press conference in which Ronaldo was presented for Al Nassr, the only visible sponsor visible was “Visit Saudi”, demonstrating how the country played a key role in securing his signing.
It’s safe to believe that a similar approach would be taken if an attempt for Messi’s signing was to be made. The Saudi state could help Al Hilal with a financial stimulus in order to secure the current world champion and so have the two players who uncontestedly dominated the sport over the last two decades in the same league.
Al Hilal want Messi
Al Hilal’s desire to bring in the legendary Argentine is so great, that they would be willing to not only sign him, but to bring him to the club in this very transfer window.
The driving force behind this ambition is the dream of having Messi on the team for the upcoming Club World Cup which will take place from the 1-11 of February in Rabat and Tangier.
If Messi was to be open to leaving at such short notice, Al Hilal would have to negotiate directly with PSG as well since the Parisian club still has their star under contract until 30 June.
Conveniently, PSG will be in Riyadh this week to play a series of friendly games against Al Hilal and Al Nassr, so the directors of the Saudi club could take this opportunity to open talks with the Parisian club’s top brass.
However, there are some difficulties, most notably PSG’s ownership. The French club is owned by Qatar, a regional competitor for the same global attention, so it would take some effort to convince them to let such an influential player leave so soon to a rival league, and to a team that competes against Qatari teams in the Asian Champions League.
Messi’s relationship with Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia and Messi have a visibly close relationship, with the Argentine captain currently being an ambassador for tourism in the country. “Lionel Messi wants you to unleash your inner thrill seeker and uncover the unimagined” is displayed on the Visit Saudi webpage. On said page, there lists a variety of locations endorsed by Lionel Messi on his travels.
Messi’s role as ambassador for tourism began with his trip to Jeddah in May 2022. This coastal city displays modern architecture, a port, beaches on the Red Sea, and a prominent urban nucleus. Tourism minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb proclaimed “This is not his first visit to the Kingdom and it will not be the last!” after welcoming Messi at the city’s international airport.
Messi has also promoted Saudi Arabia’s tourism through his social media. In a post from 9 May 2022, Messi could be seen on a yacht watching the sun go down over the horizon. The caption read “Discovering the Red Sea #VisitSaudi”, with a paid promotion tag on top.
Furthermore, he was seen with princess Haifa Al-Saud, vice-minister of tourism, on a walk through Jeddah. The princess later expressed her delight to have welcomed the international star on Twitter.
In conclusion, Saudi Arabia has set its mind on bringing Messi into its national league. The offer will arrive, and the ball will then be in the Argentine’s court.
GSFN | Nicolas Antunez de Mayolo