Brazilian superstar Neymar will be unveiled to fans at Al-Hilal on Saturday as he becomes the latest world-famous footballer snapped up by the big-spending Saudi Pro League.
The flamboyant forward, 31, will be welcomed at Al-Hilal’s 68 000-capacity stadium in Riyadh alongside two other new signings, fellow Brazilian Malcolm and Moroccan goalkeeper Yassine Bounou.
Excitement has been high for Neymar, who joins a string of huge names approaching the twilight of their careers to be lured by oil-rich Saudi’s giant contracts.
Neymar joined Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona in 2017 for a world-record fee of 222 million euros ($242 million), scoring 118 goals in 173 matches despite a series of injuries.
He will earn 100 million euros a season in Saudi Arabia, according to a source close to the negotiations, while PSG will pocket 100 million euros in the deal.
Cristiano Ronaldo set the Saudi Pro League’s plans in motion when he joined Al-Nassr in January in a two-and-a-half-year deal said to be worth 400 million euros.
It opened the floodgates for a jaw-dropping summer transfer window when the Saudi league, previously a footballing backwater, snapped up some of the biggest names in the sport.
Real Madrid superstar Karim Benzema was a gala signing for Al-Ittihad in June, followed by Riyadh Mahrez, Sadio Mane, N’Golo Kante, Roberto Firmino, Jordan Henderson and others.
Al-Hilal are the second biggest spending club worldwide in the current transfer window, trailing only Chelsea, and four Saudi teams – Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr, Al-Ahli and Al-Ittihad – have spent nearly more than 560 million euros between them, according to Transfermarkt.com.
The four clubs are owned by the Public Investment Fund, a sovereign wealth vehicle, which has been snapping up assets as part of an aggressive drive to diversify the economy of the world’s biggest oil exporter.
Two global superstars resisted the Saudi advances: Lionel Messi, who opted for Inter Miami, and his former PSG teammate Kylian Mbappe, who reportedly refused to meet Al-Hilal officials.
Off the field, Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard joined Al-Ettifaq, ex-Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo became the Saudi league’s director of football and Roma coach Jose Mourinho joined the board of Saudi’s Mahd Sports Academy.
The buying spree has understandably caught the attention of other leagues, with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp expressing concern that the Saudi transfer window closes on September 20 – three weeks after Europe.
Al-Hilal are coached by Portugal’s Jorge Jesus, who is in his second spell at the club, while the squad has five international players recently lured from Europe – Ruben Neves, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Kalidou Koulibaly, Malcom and Bounou.
Al-Hilal have traditionally been one of Saudi Arabia’s top clubs and have been crowned Asian Champions League winners on four occasions.
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