Saudi Arabia’s summer spending spree lured the likes of Neymar and Karim Benzema to the Kingdom, but the Public Investment Fund (PIF) missed out on the man they really wanted: Lionel Messi. However, the Saudi Premier League has not given up all hope of signing the Argentine superstar, with an audacious plan to tempt Messi away from the United States.
Saudi Premier League clubs will attempt to sign Messi on loan upon the conclusion of the MLS season, according to Sport Italia. Inter Miami has two regular-season games remaining before the MLS Cup playoffs begin, and they have already been eliminated from post-season contention meaning Messi could be available to play for another team on loan until MLS returns in the spring next year.
Saudi Arabia has invested hundreds of millions into its football infrastructure over the past year in the hope of making it a global superpower, with the likes of Sadio Mane, Jordan Henderson and Roberto Firmino among the big names to join on lucrative contracts in the summer.
The PIF, which also owns Newcastle United and LIV Golf, took ownership of four Saudi clubs this year to deliver a massive cash injection. With Cristiano Ronaldo already playing for Al-Nassr, signing Messi as well – even on a short-term loan – would be a huge coup and boost the global appeal and credibility of the league.
Winter loans have been used by several of MLS’ biggest stars in the past. David Beckham had a stint with AC Milan while he was on LA Galaxy’s books, and Thierry Henry returned to Arsenal on a temporary deal when he was at the New York Red Bulls. Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan also made Premier League loan moves during the MLS off-season.
It remains to be seen whether Messi would be interested in making the move to the Middle East. He rejected advances from Saudi clubs when he joined David Beckham’s Inter Miami, with the South Florida lifestyle playing a significant role in his decision. Speculation continues over a Barcelona homecoming, too, which could scupper the Saudi’s plans.
Messi joined Miami when they were bottom of the Eastern Conference, but he instantly delivered a trophy by winning the Leagues Cup. Aided by fellow former Barca teammates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, Messi scored 10 goals in his first seven games to win the competition, which is contested by Mexican and American teams.
In five MLS games since, Messi has one goal and two assists, with the 36-year-old suffering a hamstring injury while on international duty with Argentina. And with Miami eliminated from MLS Cup contention, it is possible Messi will not play for Miami again until 2024.