Saudi Pro League champions Al Ittihad believe they are very close to securing the signature of men's Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema at the start of a summer that could see a rush of veteran talent to Saudi Arabia.noting at the time that they were optimistic that the 35-year-old could be tempted to depart Real Madrid.
Head coach Carlo Ancelotti has previously indicated that Benzema agreed to extend his stay at Real Madrid, where he is the second highest goalscorer in club history. However, that deal has not been formally announced and the France international could earn dramatically more if he makes the move to Al Ittihad, with sources in Saudi Arabia indicating his base salary would amount to around €100 million a year. The man he trails in Madrid's scoring charts, Cristiano Ronaldo, made the move to Saudi Arabia in January and while he has struggled for form on the field his arrival may prove pivotal in changing perceptions of the Pro League among veterans, many of whom are being eyed up this summer.
Alexis Sanchez is wanted by Al Khaleej if they can avoid relegation on the final day of the season and the Chilean is said to be keen on making the switch when his contract with Marseille expires next month. Al Nassr, meanwhile, hope to add a marquee midfielder to play alongside Ronaldo and are monitoring the state of contract negotiations between N'Golo Kante and Chelsea. There is also interest in snaring Luka Modric from Real Madrid.
The greatest prize of all would be Lionel Messi, who will make a decision over his future in the coming weeks with his time at Paris Saint-Germain coming to an end. Barcelona hope to lure him back to the club where he established himself as one of the game's greatest-ever players while Inter Miami have offered a stake in the team to tempt him to MLS. However, neither can match the financial package on offer by the Pro League, which CBS Sports revealed earlier this month would be worth €1 billion over a two-year contract.
Moves such as those for Messi and Benzema are negotiated by Saudi government representatives and the Public Investment Fund (PIF) rather than at a club level; the actual team that secures the biggest stars can be one of the last matters to be nailed down. Al Hilal are currently viewed as the most likely destination for the Argentine if he does decide to move to the Pro League, meaning that the great rivalry between Riyadh's two leading sides would take on the additional component of a resumption of the Messi-Ronaldo rivalry.
For the time being PIF and the Saudi Ministry of Sport are prioritizing the signing of experienced players who, sources acknowledge, are lured by one last major paycheck in the dwindling years of their career. However, sources in the Pro League believe that it will not be long before top talent can be lured in their 20s with the likes of Ronaldo tasked with changing global perceptions of football in the country. Sources also revealed that the sports ministry is working to arrange an all-star game, pitting the Pro League's best against a World XI.