Nigeria’s Odion Ighalo’s depature from Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal could be a way of creating the vacancy which the legendary Lionel Messi has come to fill.
It was in similar circumstance that Cameroon’s captain, Vincent Aboubakar had to leave Al Nassr so that the club could accommodate Cristiano Ronaldo.
Senior officials from Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal football club have flown to Paris to seal a mega-deal with departing superstar Lionel Messi, two sources with knowledge of the matter told AFP on Sunday.
The Saudi delegation plans to meet Messi’s father and agent, Jorge, with the aiming of completing the signing as soon as possible, the sources said.
According to earlier reports, the Argentina footballer will earn $1 billion (S$1.45 billion) for a two-year contract.
Messi’s departure from Qatar-owned Paris-Saint Germain was confirmed on Saturday and he was jeered by a section of the club’s fans in his final appearance, a 3-2 defeat by Clermont.
“There is a Saudi delegation in Paris with one goal: to return with Messi official approval to the Saudi offer,” a source close to the club said.
Another official, who is close to the negotiations, said: “We are in the final stage of the deal.
“If everything goes well, Messi will sign his new contract and Al-Hilal will announce it before the weekend.”
Messi, 35, arrived in Paris two seasons ago from Barcelona but was unable to help PSG win an elusive Champions League title, as the club suffered last-16 defeats in both campaigns with the Argentine maestro.
Along with oil-wealthy Saudi Arabia – where Cristiano Ronaldo has been playing since January – the seven-time Ballon d’Or-winner has also been linked with a return to Barcelona and with David Beckham’s Inter Miami.
He is not the only star being courted by Saudi Arabia, which is attempting to improve its austere image and attract tourists and investment, partly through the vehicle of sport.
On Saturday, Saudi state television channel Al-Ekhbariya said French striker Karim Benzema, who is leaving Real Madrid, had signed with Jeddah-based Al-Ittihad.
According to Al-Ekhbariya, the Saudi champions’ president and his deputy were in the Spanish capital to sign Benzema in a “record transfer with Real Madrid”.
Saudi-Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has thrown hundreds of millions at sports deals including Ronaldo’s signing, Formula One and the divisive LIV Golf tour, drawing frequent claims it is “sportswashing” its human rights record.
Last month, a source close to the negotiations in Saudi Arabia told AFP that Messi’s signing was a “done deal”, describing the contract as “huge”.
Messi, who lifted the World Cup in Qatar in December, was suspended by Qatari-owned PSG last month for an unauthorised mid-season trip to Saudi, where he is a tourism ambassador.