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SAUDI PRO LEAGUE

Suspended Messi set to get mega-offer from Saudi Arabian

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Lionel Messi visits Saudi Arabia - Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - May 1, 2023 Paris St Germain's Lionel Messi during a visit to Saudi Arabia Saudi Ministry of Tourism/Handout via REUTERS

Reports in France that Paris St Germain have decided not to renew Lionel Messi’s contract have fuelled speculation that Argentina’s World Cup-winning captain is closing in on a lucrative transfer to a Saudi Arabian club next season.

French sports daily L’Equipe reported on Tuesday that Qatari-owned PSG had suspended Messi for two weeks and decided against exercising an option to renew his contract for a third season after he made an unauthorised trip to Saudi Arabia.

Messi is a Saudi ambassador for tourism and his longtime rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, signed for Saudi club Al-Nassr in December in a deal reported to be worth around $220 million per year.

Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia nearly doubled the Portuguese former Real Madrid great’s annual playing salary, making him the world’s highest-paid athlete, Forbes reported earlier this week.

Any deal for Messi, whose most likely destination is Al Nassr’s rivals Al-Hilal, is almost certain to exceed the amount paid for Ronaldo.

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Al-Hilal fans chanted Messi’s name and waved his shirts after the win against Al-Nassr last month.

British newspaper the Daily Telegraph reported on Wednesday that representatives of the former Barcelona great were in talks with Al-Hilal over an annual contract worth around 400 million euros ($442.04 million).

Al-Hilal did not immediately reply to a request for comment outside of normal business hours.

PSG, who are owned by Qatar Sports Investments, declined to comment on the reports.

Messi’s trip to Saudi Arabia resulted in him being suspended without pay and banned from training with his team mates by PSG, L’Equipe said.

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Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al Khateeb confirmed Messi’s trip to the Kingdom.

“I am happy to welcome Saudi Tourism Ambassador Lionel Messi and his family on his second vacation in Saudi,” Al Khateeb wrote on his Twitter account.

“Welcome Messi to Diriyah, the land of traditions, heritage and history.

“Leo Messi, his wife Antonella and his sons Mateo and Ciro had an enjoyable tour where they learned about the history of Saudi and met its generous and hospitable people in At-Turaif.”

-Reuters

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

SAUDI PRO LEAGUE

Ronaldo breaks Saudi League’s single-season scoring record

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Saudi Pro League - Al Nassr v Al Ittihad - Al-Awwal Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - May 27, 2024 Al Nassr's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their second goal REUTERS/Stringer

Al Nasr’s Cristiano Ronaldo capped his first full Saudi Pro League season in style as he broke the record for the most goals scored in one campaign on Monday.

The Portuguese 39-year-old scored a brace in his side’s 4-2 win over Al Ittihad on the final matchday to bring his league tally this season to 35 goals.

The previous record was held by former Al Nasr forward and Moroccan international Abderrazak Hamdallah, who scored 34 goals in 2018-19.

Ronaldo, who played for Sporting, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus, joined Al Nasr in January 2023.

-Reuters

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SAUDI PRO LEAGUE

Ighalo’s former club, Al-Hilal secure Saudi League title

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Saudi Pro League - Al Hilal v Al Hazem - Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - May 11, 2024 Al Hilal fans display banners in the stands as the celebrate after winning the Saudi Pro League REUTERS/Stringer

Undefeated Al-Hilal won a record-extending 19th Saudi Pro League title on Saturday with a 4-1 victory over Al-Hazem to reclaim the trophy from Al-Ittihad who won it last season.

Jorge Jesus’ side hold a 12-point advantage over Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr in second with three matches remaining.

Aleksandar Mitrovic gave Al-Hilal the lead from the penalty spot after 15 minutes but Faiz Selemani netted the equaliser for Al-Hazem in the 34th minute.

However, Jesus’s side took the lead again with an own goal from Ahmed Al-Juwaid in the 39th minute.

Mitrovic scored again in first-half stoppage time and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic scored three minutes later to make it 4-1.

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Al-Hilal are chasing the treble having clinched the Saudi Super Cup title in April, and having reached the Saudi King’s Cup final where they will play Al-Nassr.

-Reuters

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SAUDI PRO LEAGUE

Morocco’s Hamdallah whipped by fan  after Saudi Super Cup final

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A fan at the Saudi Super Cup final lashed an Al-Ittihad player with a whip during a confrontation moments after the match Thursday night.

The incident occurred following Al-Ittihad’s 4-1 loss to Al-Hilal in the final played at Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium.

A video circulating on social media shows striker Abderrazak Hamdallah throwing water from a bottle at the fan, who responds by pulling out a long whip and lashing at the Morocco international twice — appearing to hit the player’s back the second time.

The 33-year-old Hamdallah, who had missed a penalty but later scored his team’s only goal during the game, did not appear to be injured.

As Hamdallah’s teammates stepped in, the fan was guided away by another spectator and a security official. In the video, the fan did not appear to be detained.

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A young fan in a wheelchair was nearly caught in the middle of the altercation. Former Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema plays for Al-Ittihad but was not close to the incident. Injured Al-Hilal star Neymar didn’t play in the game but helped his team lift the trophy during the celebrations.

In 2023, the Super Cup was expanded from a single game between the league champions and King’s Cup winners to include the runners-up from both competitions. It was also moved to Abu Dhabi.

Al-Ittihad did not respond to a request for comment.

Hamdallah played on the Morroco team that reached the semifinals of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. He came on as a substitute in three group-stage games.

He is in his sixth season playing in Saudi Arabia.

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-AP

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