Saudi side Al Hilal expect a decision from Lionel Messi on his next club by the end of the week after several days of high level negotiations between Messi and Saudi representatives in Paris, sources close to the talks have told CBS Sports. Messi is set to leave Paris Saint-Germain when his contract expires at the end of the month and a move to Saudi Arabia is one of the leading options available to him.
Talks with both clubs and the country's Public Investment Fund (PIF) have taken place over recent months and CBS Sports has been told that recent dialogue with Messi's representatives has involved senior figures in the Saudi government, such is their commitment to securing one of the greatest footballers in history. Messi could earn €1 billion over a two year contract in the Saudi Pro League and would be joining Cristiano Ronaldo who signed with the league in January and Karim Benzema, whose move to champions Al Ittihad is imminent.
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Saudi sources have long been confident for that they will get their man ahead of rivals Inter Miami and Barcelona and plans have been made for him to arrive in the kingdom later this week. The most significant complicating factor for Al Hilal is Barcelona's attempts to bring Messi back to the club where he made his name; on Monday his father and agent Jorge Messi was seen visiting the home of club president Joan Laporta.
"Of course, he [Messi] would love to return to Barcelona," Jorge Messi, who denied the meeting even though he had been caught on camera, told reporters. "I would like it too. We will see." Complicating matters for the Catalan giants, however, are finances that make it far from guaranteed that they would be able to bring Messi back to La Liga.
For the time being money is no worry at all in Saudi Arabia, where huge contracts are being offered to lure veterans across Europe. Monday saw the announcement that PIF had taken over four clubs: Al Ittihad, Al Ahli, Al Nassr, and Al Hilal. This reflects the high level involvement of the state in the remaking of the Pro League though PIF's involvement predates their take over of the quartet;
Meanwhile, further offers are being made to veterans in Europe. CBS Sports can reveal that Iago Aspas is wanted by Al Fath while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, unwanted at Chelsea, has been offered to Al Ahli and Al Shabab. A PIF delegation has also travelled to London in an attempt to secure the signatures of N'Golo Kante as well as Ilkay Gundogan on two year, €200 million deals. Both midfielders are out of contract with Premier League sides Chelsea and Manchester City at the end of the month.
Such significant investment in sport comes as the Saudi state attempts to diversify its economy away from oil and gas while also projecting soft power for the regime across the globe, with PIF's purchase of Newcastle United another aspect of this strategy. Saudi Arabia is also expected to bid for the 2030 World Cup.