The Saudi Pro League is marketing itself as a division of 'new dreams' as part of the country's Vision 2030 manifesto; Mohamed Salah and Kevin De Bruyne were circled to Sky Sports News as two examples of players that will be targeted in coming seasons
Tuesday 31 January 2023 21:42, UK
Saudi Arabia has not thrown in the towel on convincing Lionel Messi to join Cristiano Ronaldo in elevating their league, despite the World Cup winner's discussions with Paris Saint-Germain over a new contract.
Sky Sports News has been told that while the possibility of signing the Argentina international this summer or in the near future remains open, football officials in the country have been empowered to "once again prove the ambition of the Kingdom" with financial and commercial help readily available.
The Saudi Pro League is marketing itself as a division of "new dreams" as part of the country's Vision 2030 manifesto, in which the "primary goal is to be an exemplary and leading nation in all aspects."
Al Hilal, who were only scuppered from signing Ronaldo due to a transfer ban that allowed Al Nassr to swoop in, are primed to make Messi - already an ambassador for Saudi Arabia tourism - the highest-paid footballer in the world.
He would earn in excess of £200m a year should he decide to exit PSG for them, and if he stays in Europe, Saudi clubs will only defer rather than dump their pursuit.
The French giants have been confident that Messi, out of contract in June, will remain at the club owing to an agreement in principle reached during the World Cup and public declarations that he's happy in Paris.
However, talks over the past month have not been seamless due to a few sticking points.
Messi's current deal at PSG was for two years with the option of a third, but the final 12 months had to be triggered by both parties.
Discussions are now focused on a fresh contract and there has yet to be consensus over the length or cost of it - in terms of both wages and bonuses. Having received a £57m fine by UEFA of which £8.7m had to be paid in full, PSG need to be mindful of Financial Fair Play although they have not had issues manoeuvring around it in the past.
L'Équipe have reported that commissions from Messi's original contract have yet to be paid out to his father and agent, Jorge.
Dialogue between the player's camp, PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, and sporting director Luis Campos is continuing with the club calm over the situation.
In Saudi Arabia the feeling is growing that Messi - or any footballer for that matter - is not out of reach. Mohamed Salah and Kevin De Bruyne were circled to Sky Sports News as two examples of players that will be targeted in coming seasons.
It is instructive that former Manchester City chief Garry Cook has been appointed as the new executive president and CEO of the Saudi Pro League.
Cook was in charge of City when it was purchased by Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan - he made the pitch to Abu Dhabi that sealed the takeover - and put the foundations in place for the club's dominance.
There's was no headline player he didn't attempt to attract, famously hijacking Chelsea's £32.5m move for Robinho in 2008 - a British transfer record fee at the time.
If it wasn't for Sir Alex Ferguson picking Dimitar Berbatov up from the airport himself, Cook was going to muscle in on the forward's transfer from Tottenham to Manchester United too.
He also - through miscommunication - put in a £70m bid for Messi back then which was rejected by Barcelona.
Cook is seen as a man who can deliver Saudi Arabia's aim of having a league that rivals Europe's major divisions.
A colleague of the 65-year-old told Sky Sports News his "larger-than-life thinking" is perfect for the country's ambition and limitless resources. Cook, who signed Yaya Toure, David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez for City, has been tasked with attracting the game's leading light to Saudi Arabia.
Football is a key driver for its strategic, economic and social aims.
This month alone Saudi Arabia hosted the Spanish Supercopa between Barcelona and Real Madrid, before staging AC Milan and Inter's Supercoppa Italiana battle. The much-anticipated Ronaldo versus Messi showdown followed in an exhibition game between a Riyadh All-Star XI and PSG, which Amnesty International referred to as 'sportswashing at full throttle.'
The global interest in that sold-out match at King Fahd International Stadium only heightened the desire to have the Argentine in the Saudi Pro League. The scale of eyes on Ronaldo's debut for Al Nassr has furthered Saudi Arabia's belief that it can attract more megastars to the country and become "an established football hub."
Sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, has said the government would support any private sector bids from the country for Manchester United or Liverpool following on from the Saudi Public Investment Fund-backed purchase of Newcastle.
Visit Saudi, which counts Messi as an ambassador, is due to be named as a sponsor of the upcoming FIFA Women's World Cup.
All this leads into the fact the country is considering making a joint bid to host the 2030 men's showpiece along with Egypt and Greece, with human rights groups offering important reminders of the gore amid all this glitz.
"On a single day last year, the Saudi authorities executed 81 people - many after grossly unfair trials," read a statement from Amnesty International.
"Heavy prison sentences are being handed down to human rights defenders and women's rights activists, and there's still been no justice for Jamal Khashoggi's terrible murder."