Saudi Arabia’s aggressive bid to transform its domestic soccer league into one of the most glamorous has attracted Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the greatest stars of his generation, and Karim Benzema, FIFA World Player of the Year. However, these signings are nothing compared to their most ambitious target yet: Kylian Mbappe.
Over the weekend, Al-Hilal, one of the most prominent teams in the Saudi Professional League, made an offer of $332 million for the France striker to his current team, Paris Saint-Germain. If the deal is concluded, it would make Mbappe the most expensive player in the history of the sport to some extent, surpassing the $ 263 million paid by Paris Saint-Germain for Brazilian striker Neymar six years ago.
The official offer was sent to PSG CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi on Saturday. Signed by the CEO of Al Hilal, it confirmed the price the club was willing to pay and requested permission to discuss the salary and contract duration with Mbappe. On Tuesday, some media outlets reported that Paris Saint-Germain had agreed to this request.
Al-Hilal were expecting to hold initial talks with Mbappe’s agent and mother, Faiza El-Amari, early this week, according to three people familiar with the offer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details. And it is likely that the club will have to commit hundreds of millions of dollars in additional salaries to persuade Mbappe, 24, who is considered the potential heir to Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as the best player on the planet, to leave PSG for a team in what was recently ranked as the 58th strongest domestic league in football.
Mbappe has already been generously rewarded at Paris Saint-Germain, his hometown club. Last summer, he landed a $36 million a year contract, complete with a $120 million golden handshake.
Even the amount of money that PSG’s eventual owner – Qatar Sports Investment, which draws on the wealth of the Qatari state – can pay him, though, may not prove unprofitable to his potential employer: Al-Hilal is now one of four Saudi teams most of which are owned by the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
There is an opportunistic element to Al-Hilal’s approach. Mbappe’s future has been the subject of intense speculation since the beginning of June, when the player informed Paris Saint-Germain that he intended to see out the final year of his current deal and move away from working as a free agent in 2024.
PSG insisted it would not consider losing such a valuable asset for nothing, and told Mbappe he must sign a new contract – one that extends his stay beyond 2024 – or face an uncertain future: either be sold or have to spend the season on the bench.
The club sought legal advice to gauge the strength of its position. Mbappe has confirmed that he intends to spend next season in Paris, despite being left out of the squad for the club’s Asian pre-season tour last week as a result of the clash.
Al-Hilal is not the only team hoping to capitalize on the growing divide between Paris Saint-Germain and one of football’s most talented players and most recognizable names.
Paris Saint-Germain received many inquiries about the theoretical price of Mbappe. Chelsea, which is now owned by a consortium that includes Clearlake Capital Group, the private equity firm, asked PSG how much the player would cost. Spanish champions Barcelona have discussed a deal whereby more than one of their main assets would come to Paris in exchange.
Real Madrid, long assumed to be Mbappe’s favorite destination, is yet to show a hand. Some PSG executives believe a deal is already in place for Mbappe to move to the Spanish capital next summer.
It is the expectation that Al Hilal – likely not the kind of place that Mbappe would normally, at this point in his career, have considered his natural next step – hopes could give him an edge.
It has been reported that despite all the money he is willing to spend securing his arrival, the Saudi club will allow Mbappe to leave for Spain after just one season in the Middle East.