Lionel Messi is actively considering a move to Saudi Arabia that would see him join Al Hilal, the city rivals of Cristiano Ronaldo's Al Nassr, when his Paris Saint-Germain contract expires this summer, a source familiar with negotiations has told ESPN.
Having opened talks with Messi and his advisors late last year, senior figures in the bid to take the 35-year-old to the Middle Eastern nation had initially believed they had no more than an outside chance of persuading the former Barcelona forward to follow Ronaldo to Riyadh.
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However, a source has told ESPN there is now an increasing likelihood of Messi, who fronts the Visit Saudi tourism campaign, moving to the Saudi Pro League, putting the probability as high as "50-50" following talks with the player's camp in Saudi Arabia last month.
ESPN reported on Tuesday that Messi is unlikely to reach an agreement to extend his contract at PSG, which runs out at the end of the season having signed a two-year deal on his arrival from Barcelona in 2021.
While Barcelona president Joan Laporta maintains an interest in funding a deal to take the Argentina captain back to the Spotify Camp Nou, the La Liga leaders continue to battle against financial problems and a move for Messi appears unlikely to succeed.
And although Inter Miami have been involved in long-term negotiations to sign Messi, the Major League Soccer franchise would be unable to come close to competing with the money on offer in Saudi Arabia.
But while a source said that reports of a £350 million-a-year package in Saudi with Al-Hilal are excessive, there is an appetite in the country to continue boost the profile of the Saudi Pro League following Ronaldo's move to Al-Nassr in December.
Saudi Arabia is scheduled to stage the FIFA Club World Cup for the first time in December and it is expected that the nation will confirm its bid to host the 2030 World Cup prior later this year.
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Ronaldo's move to Al-Nassr has already significantly increased the focus on football in the country, with the source saying the opportunity to sign Messi this summer has become more realistic, with many major clubs in Europe struggling financially.
Al-Hilal, coached by former Argentina forward Ramon Diaz, are the reigning Saudi champions and the most successful team the Asian Champions League having won the competition for a record fourth time when it was last staged in 2021.
The club are regarded as the biggest and most popular in Saudi Arabia, with Riyadh neighbours Al-Nassr their traditional rivals.