Neymar quits PSG to sign for Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal

PSG's Neymar Al-Hilal saudi arabia

FILE – PSG’s Neymar celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal during the French League One soccer match between Lille and PSG at the Lille Metropole stadium, in Villeneuve d’Ascq, northern France, Jan. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler, File)

Neymar said he was relishing “new challenges and opportunities in new places” after he joined Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal from Paris Saint-Germain on a two-year deal Tuesday, becoming the latest big name lured to the oil-rich Gulf state.

The Brazil forward, 31, ends a six-year stay in the French capital and follows in the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Sadio Mane in swapping Europe for the Middle East.

“I have achieved a lot in Europe and enjoyed special times, but I have always wanted to be a global player and test myself with new challenges and opportunities in new places,” Neymar said in a statement from the Saudi Pro League.

“I want to write new sporting history, and the Saudi Pro League has tremendous energy and quality players at the moment,” he added.

“Al-Hilal is a giant club with fantastic fans, and it is the best in Asia. This gives me a feeling that it is the right decision for me at the right time with the right club. I love winning and scoring goals, and I plan to continue doing that in Saudi Arabia and with Al-Hilal.”

Neymar joined PSG from Barcelona in 2017 for a world record fee of 222 million euros ($242 million), a few weeks before they recruited Kylian Mbappe.

The Brazilian scored 118 goals in 173 matches for PSG, winning five Ligue 1 titles and three French Cups, but his time at PSG was blighted by a catalog of injuries.

Although he helped the club to the 2020 Champions League final, which they lost 1-0 to Bayern Munich, he was sidelined for key games.

Neymar underwent surgery on his right ankle in early March, only returning to join PSG on their pre-season tour of Asia.

However, he no longer figured in new coach Luis Enrique’s plans and was immediately linked with a move to Al-Hilal, where he will earn “100 million euros a season”, according to a source close to the negotiations.

PSG will not come close to recouping the fee they paid for Neymar but will still pocket close to 100 million euros as well, according to the same source.

“It is always difficult to say goodbye to an amazing player like Neymar, one of the best players in the world,” said PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi in a statement from the French champions.

“I will never forget the day he arrived at Paris Saint-Germain, and what he has contributed to our club and our project over the last six years. We had a great moment and Neymar will always be a big part of our history.”

Al-Hilal has traditionally been one of Saudi Arabia’s top clubs and has been crowned Asian Champions League winners on four occasions.

They are also one of the four clubs — along with Al-Nassr, Al-Ahli and Al-Ittihad — owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).

 Neymar goes after Mbappe reintegrated

Kylian Mbappe

France’s forward Kylian Mbappe (R) reacts during the UEFA Euro 2024 group B qualification football match between France and Greece at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, in the northern outskirts of Paris, on June 19, 2023. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

Al-Hilal is coached by Portugal’s Jorge Jesus, who is in his second spell at the club, while the squad currently boasts four international players recently lured from Europe — Ruben Neves, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Kalidou Koulibaly and Neymar’s Brazilian compatriot Malcom.

Last month Al-Hilal made a 300-million-euro bid for Mbappe, though the striker reportedly refused to meet with officials from the team.

Neymar’s departure from PSG follows that of Lionel Messi who now plays for Inter Miami in the United States.

It comes barely 48 hours after Mbappe was reinstated to PSG’s first team, ending a stand-off over a contract dispute that had rumbled on for several weeks between the France captain and the Ligue 1 club.

French media reported Mbappe made Neymar’s departure one of the necessary conditions for him to sign a new contract in 2022, when the former was strongly linked with a move to Real Madrid.

While Mbappe is now back in the fold, for the time being at least, Neymar has instead added himself to a growing list of high-profile players who have accepted the Saudi riches on offer.

The deal brings an end to an indifferent relationship with PSG, a club he wanted to leave to return to Barcelona in 2019 before signing a contract extension until 2027.

Paris was open to Neymar leaving last season, but his estimated salary of 30 millions euros a year put off any potential buyers.

He started the season strongly but was hit by the latest in a series of ankle injuries at the World Cup in Qatar, where he equaled the late Pele’s Brazil record with his 77th international goal.

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