Saudi Arabia’s fast-paced attempt to turn its national soccer league into one of the most glamorous in the sport has already attracted Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the biggest stars of his generation, and Karim Benzema, the current world player of the year. Those deals, however, pale in comparison to his most ambitious target yet: Kylian Mbappé.
Over the weekend, one of the most prominent teams in the Saudi Professional League, Al Hilal, submitted a $332 million offer for the French striker to his current team, Paris St.-Germain. If the deal goes through, it would make Mbappe the most expensive player in the sport’s history by far, dwarfing the $263 million PSG paid for Brazilian striker Neymar six years ago.
The official offer was sent to PSG chief executive Nasser Al-Khelaifi on Saturday. It was signed by the chief executive of Al Hilal, and he confirmed the price the club was willing to pay and requested permission to discuss salary and contract length with Mbappé. On Monday, some media reported that PSG had agreed to that request.
Al Hilal expected to hold initial talks with Fayza Lamari, Mbappe’s agent and mother, earlier this week, according to three people with knowledge of the offer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details. The club will likely have to commit hundreds of millions of dollars more in salary to persuade Mbappe, 24, who is considered the likely heir to Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as the best player on the planet, to leave PSG for a team in what was recently ranked soccer’s 58th strongest national league.
Mbappé is already handsomely paid at PSG, his hometown club. Last summer, he was handed a contract worth $36 million a year, complete with a $120 million golden handshake.
Even the amount of money that PSG’s ultimate owner, Qatar Sports Investment, tapping into wealth from the state of Qatar, can afford to pay him, however, may not prove unpalatable to his would-be employer: Al Hilal is now one of four Saudi teams majority-owned by the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
There is an element of opportunism in Al Hilal’s approach. Mbappe’s future has been the subject of intense speculation since early June, when the player informed PSG that he intended to finish the final year of his current contract and leave as a free agent in 2024.
PSG have insisted that they will not contemplate losing such a prized asset for nothing, and have informed Mbappé that he must sign a new contract, one that would extend his stay beyond 2024, or face an uncertain future: either be sold or have to spend the season on the substitute bench.
The club has sought legal advice to gauge the strength of its position. Mbappé has maintained that he intends to spend next season in Paris, although he was omitted from the squad for the club’s pre-season tour of Asia last week as a result of the clash.
Al Hilal is not the only team hoping to take advantage of the growing schism between PSG and one of football’s most talented players and most marketable names.
PSG have received several inquiries about Mbappé’s theoretical price. Chelsea, now owned by a consortium that includes Clearlake Capital Group, the private equity firm, asked PSG how much the player would cost. Barcelona, the Spanish champions, has discussed a deal in which more than one of its top assets would come to Paris in a trade.
Real Madrid, long assumed to be Mbappé’s preferred destination, have yet to show their hand. Some PSG executives believe that an agreement is already in place in which Mbappé would move to the Spanish capital next summer.
It is that expectation that Al Hilal – probably not the sort of venue that Mbappé, at this stage of his career, would normally have regarded as his natural next step – hopes can give him an advantage.
It has been reported that despite all the money they are willing to spend to secure his arrival, the Saudi club would allow Mbappé to leave for Spain after just one season in the Middle East.