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SAUDI PRO LEAGUE

Kylian Mbappe set to join Ighalo’s former Saudi club, Al Hilal for record $332 million

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After missing out on Lionel Messi, Saudi Arabian soccer team Al-Hilal made a record 300 million euro ($332 million) bid for Kylian Mbappe on Monday, an offer which could see the France striker join Cristiano Ronaldo in the oil-rich kingdom.

Paris Saint-Germain confirmed the offer for its player and has given Al-Hilal permission to open negotiations directly with Mbappe.

The 2018 World Cup winner is in a contract standoff with PSG after his decision not to take up the option of a 12-month extension on his deal. Instead, he plans to walk away as a free agent at the end of the upcoming season when he is widely expected to join Real Madrid.

PSG cut Mbappe from its preseason tour of Japan on Saturday, with the French club determined to sell him unless he can be convinced to sign a new contract.

A new deal now looks highly unlikely with relations between the 24-year-old Mbappe and PSG becoming increasingly tense.

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Earlier this year, Al-Hilal failed in an attempt to sign Messi, with the Argentina great choosing to join Inter Miami instead.

The bid for Mbappe would make him the most expensive soccer player in history, overtaking the $262 million PSG paid for Neymar, who joined from Barcelona in 2017.

The offer represents Saudi Arabia’s most ambitious move yet as part of a determined recruitment drive to lure the game’s biggest players to the country.

After Ronaldo agreed to join Al-Nassr in December, Saudi teams have gone into overdrive by targeting leading names from Europe’s top leagues. Real Madrid great and current Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema signed for Saudi champion Al-Ittihad last month and has been joined by 2018 World Cup winner N’Golo Kante.

Roberto Firmino, Kalidou Koulibaly and Marcelo Brozovic are among other big names to head to the lucrative Saudi league, which is making mega-money offers to players in a bid to raise the profile and quality of soccer in the country.

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While that was not enough to convince Messi to join Al-Hilal after leaving PSG, more stars are expected to follow in the footsteps of Ronaldo and Co.

Premier League players like Riyad Mahrez and Jordan Henderson have recently been linked with moves from Manchester City and Liverpool, respectively.

The reported salaries and commercial deals for Ronaldo, Benzema and Kante could earn them a combined figure of nearly $1 billion.

Mbappe has said he plans to see out the final year of his contract, which would leave PSG powerless to prevent him from leaving for nothing next year.

The French champions, who are owned by Qatar Sports Investments, have already seen Messi leave for nothing in return and are determined to earn a fee for a player who is widely considered one of the few capable of taking over from Messi and Ronaldo as soccer’s biggest star.

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His omission from PSG’s touring squad in Japan raises the possibility that he could be benched next season if he refuses to sign a contract or agree to leave during this transfer window.

Al-Hilal are said to be among a host of clubs that have been alerted to his potential availability, but it is unlikely any could match the bid that has been put forward.

There has been an expectation that he would join Madrid, which had a bid of $190 million rejected by PSG in 2021. Madrid is in need of a top class forward after losing Benzema at the end of the season.

Mbappe had until July 31 to trigger a one-year extension on his contract. He has been at the club since 2017 after signing from Monaco in a transfer worth a reported $190 million.

Saudi Arabia has sought in recent years to buy its way into international sports. Besides Ronaldo, whose contract reportedly earns him up to $200 million a year, Saudi-funded LIV Golf has shaken up professional golf.

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-AP

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.

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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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