Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and 5 stars wanted in Saudi – and how much they could earn
Saudi Pro League clubs are aiming to recruit a number of top European footballers this summer – including Lionel Messi – after Al-Nassr signed Cristiano Ronaldo in January
Don’t let anyone tell you Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t a trailblazer.
In January, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner quit European football to join Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr and pick up an annual salary of around £177million. Ronaldo is now the best paid footballer on the planet… and others are considering following in his footsteps.
The Saudis want to boast one of the best leagues on the planet and co-host the World Cup in 2030 alongside Egypt and Greece. Although the Arab country’s poor human rights record is constantly under scrutiny, their love for football is unquestionable and they’ve got plenty of money to lure some of Europe’s most exciting players eastwards.
Here are seven players who could join the Saudi Pro League this summer…
The obvious name.
Messi is expected to leave Paris Saint-Germain when his contract expires at the end of the season. The 35-year-old’s relationship with the French club has broken down in recent weeks and he was recently suspended after an unauthorised trip to… Saudi Arabia.
Messi has little left to achieve at the highest level of the game after winning the World Cup in Qatar and may decide it’s time to chase the money. It’s believed the Saudis are willing to hand the Argentine a remarkable £320m per year deal to play in their league.
Messi is already an ambassador for Saudi Arabia, making a deal realistic. Yet Barcelona are still determined to bring their greatest ever player back to the Camp Nou, while the chance to play for Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami is something that appeals to him.
If Messi does move to Saudi Arabia, he is likely to play for Al-Hilal. His dad Jorge recently said: “There is absolutely nothing with any club for next year. The decision will never be made before Lionel finishes the league [season] with PSG.
“Once the season is over it will be time to analyse and see what is out there, and then make a decision… We can assure you that there is nothing with anyone. Neither verbal, nor signed, nor agreed, and there will not be until the end of the season.”
While a deal to sign Messi hangs in the balance, Busquets seems certain to join a Saudi club this summer. The 34-year-old midfielder will leave Barcelona when his contract expires next month after rejecting the offer of a new deal on reduced terms.
Like Messi, Busquets has little left to achieve in Europe. It’s believed he is in advanced talks to join Al-Hilal, who are also after Messi’s signature. According to Mundo Deportivo, Busquets will earn €18m (£15.7m) per year in Saudi Arabia (around £300,000-a-week).
Lloris is expected to leave Tottenham when his contract expires this summer. The former France international, 26, has been in poor form this season and may struggle to find another Premier League club, putting the Saudis on red alert.
Landing the 2018 World Cup-winning captain would be a huge coup for the Saudis. According to The Times, they are willing to triple his salary to £300,000-a-week. Lloris will struggle to find another club willing to match his current salary, let alone beat it.
Zaha’s existing deal with Crystal Palace expires this summer and, at 30, his next contract could be the final big one of his career. The Ivory Coast international is likely to receive offers from Champions League clubs, but the Saudis’ bid will surely be unrivalled.
As reported by the Daily Mail, Zaha has received a £9m per year (around £173,000-a-week) offer from Al-Ittihad. Palace are willing to pay him £200,000-a-week to keep him at Selhurst Park, but that is before tax. As such, Al-Ittihad’s offer is more lucrative.
Whatever happens, Zaha faces a tough decision this summer.
The final part of Al-Hilal’s three-pronged plan is to land Alba and reunite him with Messi and Busquets. The 34-year-old defender still has 13 months left on his Barcelona deal but could be allowed to leave the Camp Nou early after slipping down the pecking order.
It’s unclear how much Al-Hilal are willing to pay Alba, but it’s likely to be a similar amount to Busquets. The Spaniard is set to meet with Barcelona’s hierarchy to discuss his future.
Kante is widely regarded as one of the best holding midfielders of his generation, but injuries have caught up with him this season. The France international, 32, has played just seven Premier League games for Chelsea and is out of contract next month.
As reported by Foot Mercato, Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr are interested in signing Kante. They will need to offer him a competitive deal, though, as Barcelona are also after his services… and there’s a chance Chelsea could offer him a new contract too.
Firmino has already announced his decision to leave Liverpool when his contract expires this summer, but his future is still up for grabs. Barcelona are thought to be leading the race for the 31-year-old’s signature, but the Saudis aren’t giving up just yet.
In conjunction with the country’s ministry of sport, the the Saudi Pro League want to bring up to 50 out-of-contract players from the Premier League, LaLiga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and Serie A this summer. That’s according to ESPN, with Firmino one of those stars.
Other England-based players on the Saudi Pro League’s transfer longlist include Manchester City captain Ilkay Gundogan, 32, Wolves winger Adama Traore, 27, and Everton duo Yerry Mina, 28, and Abdoulaye Doucoure, 30.
Yet the Saudis are not willing to pay way over the odds for these players, which means offers to the likes of Kante and Firmino could be competitive but not ridiculous. A source told ESPN: “This won’t be like the Chinese league a few years ago.”
The offer to Lloris, however, would suggest otherwise. Ultimately the truth will only be known once a player ditches the Premier League for the Saudi Pro League this summer.