Lionel Messi could be set to renew his rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo next season. It comes following the news that Saudi club Al-Hilal are ready to offer him a mega contract to join them. His father Jorge, who also acts as his agent, and is also a Saudi ambassador, has recently been spotted in Riyad, sparking speculation that he could be negotiating a deal on behalf of his son.
Messi’s existing contract with PSG ends this summer, and, if he does not agree an extension, he will become a free agent.
Such a move would put Saudi football even more on the move, although, should it occur, Messi will face charges, similar to that levelled against Ronaldo, of ‘sportswashing.”
Messi joined PSG in the summer of 2021, as he was essentially forced out of Barcelona by their financial problems. He signed a two year deal with the French club, but there have been suggestions that he and his family have never really settled in Paris, and miss their old life in Spain, where they continue to have a house.
PSG have offered him a contract extension but, as yet he has not signed it. PSG’s exit from the Champions League at the hands of Bayern Munich may be giving him pause for thought, and with the prospect of yet another new coach being appointed in the summer, and the beginning of a new project at the club, he may not be prepared to stick around.
There are still many at Barcelona who would love to see him return, and club officials have, from time to time, hinted at such a possibility. In reality, though, this appears a pipe dream. The club’s financial situation remains precarious, and they have been told by La Liga to find £177 million in savings and through the sale of players, if they want to be able to sign any players in the summer. It is hard to find how they could afford his contract in such a scenario.
The MLS has also been suggested as a potential destination for Argentina’s World Cup winning captain, especially Inter Miami, now owned by David Beckham. The family has a house in the city and often vacation there. Moving to the US which certainly help him grow brand “Messi” from a commercial viewpoint, but the MLS has a salary cap, which is far below his current wages.
Newells Old Boys
Messi himself has frequently expressed the wish to end his career back in Argentine with Newells Old Boys, the club where it all began for him as s boy. He could yet do that, but it may be the last stop on a road that still has some way to go, as he is still just 35 years old.
Certainly from a financial viewpoint, moving to Saudi would be highly lucrative, with Riyad club Al-Hilal prepared to offer him £194 million a season to join them.
That is even more than the £175 million that Cristiano Ronaldo is receiving to play for Al-Hilal’s city rivals, Al-Nassr.
Like the MLS, the Saudi Pro League has a salary limit, but there are indications that political pressure could be brought to bear so this can be relaxed in the case of Messi.
Renewal of an old rivalry
The two men who dominated the Ballon d’Or between them for more than a decade remain the most recognisable figures in world football. However, when Ronaldo made the move to Saudi, their rivalry appeared to be over, and many took a friendly between PSG and a Riyad combined team featuring Ronaldo in January as a symbolic end of an era.
However, persuading Messi to join Al-Hilal would not only reignite, it would see both of them playing in the same league again, which would further boost the profile of Saudi football. And, with the club looking to host the World Cup as early as 2030, that might help tilt FIFA’s influence in their favour.
Messi, at the same time, needs to be careful of his reputation, because only move to Saudi would lead him open to accusations of sportswashing, with the Middle East kingdom accused of using sport to divert attention from its poor human rights record.
What is undeniable though, is that a whole generation of football fans who were previously indifferent to Saudi football are now keeping tabs on what Al-Nassr are doing every week. If Messi also were to become involved in it, interest would only soar further.
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