Lionel Messi, the star of last year’s World Cup, could be one of the highest-paid players in the history of professional sport as Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal are looking to lure the Argentine superstar with an offer he cannot refuse. But that doesn’t mean he won’t turn down the contract and return to his favourite club Barcelona – even if for a much lower salary. Messi, now 35, is widely regarded as one of the best players of all time – and of course has one of the biggest followings – just like his old rival Cristiano Ronaldo. The two players’ careers are inextricably linked, compared and contrasted by what they do on and off the pitch.
Ronaldo moved to Saudi Arabia in December 2022, following his acrimonious departure from Manchester United, to play for Al Nassr. His contract is for two-and-a-half years until June 2025 and, including commercial arrangements, guarantees the athlete €200 million a year, the highest salary ever pocketed by a professional footballer. Al Nassr, currently second in the Saudi league, is Ronaldo’s fifth club of his career. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has scored more than 700 club goals in a career that began with Sporting in Portugal, during which he won the Champions League four times with Real Madrid and once with United. Ronaldo was a disappointment at the World Cup in Qatar despite scoring against Ghana in the opening group game. During the tournament, he split with his club Manchester United. In the knockout stages, he was left out of the starting eleven and watched from the bench as Portugal were beaten 1-0 by Morocco in the quarter-finals.
Returning to Messi, he could move to Saudi Arabia with an offer that specifically includes double Ronaldo’s record contract, meaning he would be paid up to $400 million a year. The deal is said to be being negotiated between his father Jorge and Garry Cook, who was formerly chief executive of English Premier League side Manchester City. It is also important to add that the Argentina international has been Saudi Arabia’s ambassador for tourism since May 2022, and will seek to support the country’s efforts to successfully host the 2030 World Cup. This amount would be a huge leap for Messi, who currently earns €35 million a year at PSG, where his contract expires this year, and although he has an option for another year, he does not intend to take it. Messi also received a €30 million transfer bonus from Paris Saint-Germain.
The return to Barcelona could have one drawback: the Catalan giants continue to face financial difficulties, which has forced Messi to leave. Although Xavi has left the door open for Messi, it is not up to him alone. “We are in contact with Leo’s management. He knows how much we appreciate him and I would love to have him back. It’s clear that Messi loves Barca and the city, so we hope to find the right conditions for him to continue his story here,” said Rafa Yuste, the club’s vice-president.