Lionel Messi may be on the verge of a financially seismic move to Saudi Arabia.
The Paris Saint-Germain star is in talks with the Saudi Arabian government over a potential free agent deal worth as much as $400 million (£320 million) per year, according to The Telegraph. Messi's current contract with PSG is set to expire this summer.
Reportedly involved in negotiations are Messi's father Jorge and former Manchester City CEO Garry Cook.
Such a contract would shatter the largest known salary among all world athletes, and far exceed the nine-figure deal the country used to land Messi's rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, last year. Even during his prime, Messi's own annual income from FC Barcelona "only" came in around $167 million per year, according to a leaked contract.
Messi already has an established history of working with the region's oil states, which are well-known for using sports to try to overcome their atrocious human rights record on the world stage. He has worked since May 2022 as a Saudi tourism ambassador and has played for PSG, which is owned by Qatar Sports Investments, since 2021.
Messi's next move has been a question for a while, as he was reported in November to be nearing a deal to join Inter Miami of the MLS and reported in December to be on the verge of staying with PSG.
Where would Lionel Messi play in Saudi Arabia?
Once signed, Saudi Arabia could reportedly place Messi on the club Al-Hilal, the most successful team in the Saudi Professional League. In 47 seasons of SPL play, Al-Hilal has won the championship 18 times and finished as runner-up another 15 times, plus a record 13 Crown Prince Cups and four AFC Champions League titles.
That placement would once again put Messi in direct opposition against Ronaldo, who currently plays for Al-Nassr. According to The Telegraph, Ronaldo's time in Saudi Arabia has gone as hoped for the Saudis:
"Saudi ministers are delighted by the impact the Ronaldo signing has had on its population. Saudi Pro League attendances have almost doubled year on year and conversation about the league on social media amongst women and girls since his arrival are up 237 percent, according to official figures seen by Telegraph Sport."
Paris Saint-Germain suspended Lionel Messi over Saudi Arabia trip
Such a deal being in the works isn't surprising given that Messi's current team put the writing on the wall one day earlier on Tuesday.
The club reportedly suspended Messi two weeks for an unauthorized trip to Saudi Arabia and does not plan to extend his contract. That obviously might not be their choice, as The Telegraph reports their one-year contract offer has been on the table since January.
Now we might know why they were willing to suspend their most famous player, even if it damaged their relationship.