Saudi Arabia’s strong attempt to turn its domestic football league into one of the most attractive leagues in the world of sport has already attracted one of the greatest stars of its generation, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Karim Benzema, who reigns as the world’s best player of the year. But those deals pale in comparison to his most ambitious target to date, Kylian Mbappe.
Last weekend, one of the Saudi Pro League’s leading teams, Al Hilal, submitted an offer worth $332 million for the French striker to his current side, Paris Saint-Germain. If the deal goes through, Mbappe would be the most expensive player in sports history, well above the $263 million PSG paid Brazilian forward Neymar six years ago.
The formal tender was sent to PSG CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi on Saturday. The document, signed by Al Hilal’s chief executive, confirms the price the club is willing to pay and asks permission to discuss salary and contract terms with Mbappe. Some media outlets reported on Monday that PSG had granted the request.
Al-Hilal was scheduled to hold initial talks with Mbappe’s agent and mother, Faiza Ramali, earlier this week, according to three sources, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the details. Mbappe, 24, who is seen as the best player on the planet after Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, will need to spend hundreds of millions more to convince him to leave PSG and join what was recently ranked the 58th strongest team in the domestic football league.
Mbappe is already well paid at his hometown club PSG. Last summer, he was handed a contract worth $36 million a year, which included a $120 million golden handshake.
But even what PSG’s ultimate owner, Qatar Sports Investments, which is leveraging the wealth of the Qatari state, could pay him might not be offensive to future employers. Al Hilal is now one of four Saudi teams majority-owned by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund Public Investment 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 told PSG he intended to see through the final year of his current contract and leave as a free agent in 2024.
PSG insisted they were not willing to lose such a valuable asset for free, and informed Mbappe that he would have to sign a new contract extending his stay beyond 2024 or face an uncertain future where he could be sold or spend the season on the bench.
The club sought legal advice to gauge the strength of its position. Mbappe insists he will spend next season in Paris, but has been ruled out of the club’s pre-season Asia tour following a confrontation last week.
Al Hilal aren’t the only teams wanting to capitalize on the growing rift between PSG and one of football’s most talented players and most marketable names.
PSG have received several inquiries about Mbappe’s theoretical price tag. Chelsea, now owned by a consortium that includes private equity firm Clearlake Capital Group, asked PSG how much it would cost to sign the player. Spanish champions Barcelona are discussing a deal to bring some of their key assets to Paris in exchange.
Real Madrid have long been considered Mbappe’s preferred destination, but have yet to make a move. Some PSG executives believe a deal has already been struck for Mbappe to move to the Spanish capital next summer.
Al Hilal likely isn’t the kind of place Mbappe would consider a natural next step at this stage of his career, but it’s the anticipation that Al Hilal might have an advantage.
The Saudi club will reportedly allow Mbappe to head to Spain after just one season in the Middle East, despite having all the money ready to secure his arrival.