'Done deal': Messi set for megabucks Saudi move, says source

'Done deal': Messi set for megabucks Saudi move, says source
Messi - who held the World Cup for Argentina last year - will play in Saudi Arabia next season under a blockbuster deal, a source has said.
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There was no confirmation from Messi's current club Paris Saint-Germain [Getty/archive]

Argentine superstar Lionel Messi will play in Saudi Arabia next season under a blockbuster deal, a source close to the negotiations in the kingdom told AFP on Tuesday.

The deal would mean Messi potentially joins his arch-rival Cristiano Ronaldo in the Saudi league as the Gulf state lavishes its oil wealth on sport.

There was no confirmation from Messi's current club Paris Saint-Germain, who noted simply that he was under contract until June 30 when contacted by AFP.

The source said Messi will sign a "huge" deal with an as-yet-unnamed Saudi club just months after the 35-year-old lifted the World Cup in neighbouring Qatar in December.

"Messi is a done deal. He will play in Saudi Arabia next season," said the source, who is not authorised to speak to media and spoke on condition of anonymity.

"The contract is exceptional. It's huge. We are just finalising some small details," added the source.

A separate PSG source said the Qatar-owned French club had not offered Messi a new deal.

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

Despite several reports linking Messi with Al Hilal, one of the top Saudi teams, club sources told AFP they had not been in direct contact with PSG.

Lionel Messi's father and agent Jorge insisted Tuesday his son has not decided where he will play next season.

"There is absolutely nothing agreed with any club for next year," Messi's father wrote on Instagram.

"The decision will not be made before Lionel finishes the league with PSG."

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Just five years after allowing its first non-Muslim tourists visit and letting women drive, Saudi Arabia is attempting to open up its conservative society and diversify its oil-reliant economy.

The world's biggest oil exporter has thrown hundreds of millions at sports deals including Ronaldo's signing, Formula One in Jeddah and the divisive LIV Golf tour, drawing frequent claims it is "sportswashing" its human rights record.

Messi was suspended by Qatari-owned PSG last week for an unauthorised mid-season trip to Saudi, where he is a tourism ambassador.

He has also been heavily linked to a return to his former club, Barcelona. A spokesman for the Spanish La Liga leaders said, "We don't know anything about that," when asked about a potential Saudi deal.


'Not a specific club'

Messi's long-time sparring partner Ronaldo 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 ($439 million), making him the world's highest paid athlete according to Forbes.

Both deals - along with others including LIV Golf and the 2021 purchase of Newcastle United football club - are being bankrolled by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), one of the world's biggest sovereign wealth funds, the source said.

In any transfer involving such enormous financial stakes, last-minute changes are not unusual.

However the source in Saudi Arabia said the negotiations with Messi had gone smoothly.

"The negotiations didn't take as much time as the ones with Ronaldo. As we now know the recipe to contract world-class players," the source said.

"It's Saudi Arabia that brought him, not a specific club. The money comes from one place - PIF."

Ronaldo, 38, has not been a guarantee of success at Al Nassr, who have slipped off the top of the Saudi Pro League and missed out on silverware in the Saudi cup competitions.

But Messi is also intended to raise the profile of Saudi Arabia as it tries to bring in tourists and investment, the source said.

"He is a player at the end of his career and he is not here only for football. He is here to secure international attraction for the kingdom," said the source who is following the Messi negotiations.

"The plan is not only Messi and Ronaldo, the plan is to bring glorious players like these two and also upcoming youth players who have a promising future."

"We want people to visit Saudi Arabia to watch football stars," the source added.


World Cup bid

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.

The record seven-time Ballon d'Or winner, joining a mouth-watering attack featuring Kylian Mbappe 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 with the illustrious Argentine in their line-up.

Saudi Arabia has held talks with Egypt and Greece about a joint World Cup bid, according to officials. In coming years it will hold the men's Asian Cup football tournament, the Asian Games and even the Asian Winter Games on artificial snow.