For about a decade, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had one of the best rivalries in soccer. Messi played for FC Barcelona, while Ronaldo took the pitch for Real Madrid. The two have won a combined 76 trophies and are the only two players to score at least 800 goals for their clubs and countries.
Though Messi at one point claimed the rivalry was fabricated by the media, the pair have routinely hinted that they push each other to achieve greatness. Their contrasting play styles and personalities only further that drive.
When Ronaldo left Real Madrid for Juventus in 2018, the rivalry seemed to fade a bit. Now, five years later, the duo may be reuniting—in Saudi Arabia. And if the rumors are true, the craziest part of this story might be the alleged annual payday Messi may have just been offered…
Messi’s Paris Saint-Germain contract expires this summer, and it looks like negotiations aren’t getting anywhere. And if the rumors are true, Messi is considering a move to join Al Hilal, the city rivals of Al Nassr, the team Cristiano joined earlier this year.
Messi is the head of the Visit Saudi tourism campaign and reportedly received an offer from Saudi Arabia last week. With the country hosting the FIFA Club World Cup in December and putting in a bid to host the 2030 World Cup, there’s even more interest in getting another star onboard.
Al Hilal, the reigning Saudi champion, is coached by former Argentina forward Ramon Diaz. Messi has a decorated history playing for the Argentine club, so perhaps a fellow countryman is another swaying factor.
Early reports suggested Messi could earn close to $435 million PER YEAR from Al Hilal. A source close to the negotiations refuted that number, but is it that out of the question?
After initially being refuted, earlier this year, it was confirmed that Cristiano Ronaldo agreed to a 2.5-year, $535 million deal right around the new year. Al Nassr is paying him a staggering $210 million for essentially 2.5 seasons of play. In fairness, that deal covered a little more than just kicking a soccer ball. It also included Ronaldo’s image rights for team promotional material and certain public obligations, essentially to be an pseudo ambassador to the oil-rich nation.
Ronaldo’s contract is the largest contract in sports history. Ronaldo is 38 years old; Messi will turn 36 in June. It’s not unreasonable to think Al Hilal would offer a similar sum to try and poach one of the greatest players ever, especially since he’s a few years younger.
We’ll see what Messi ultimately decides to do. For now, it appears this classic rivalry is still very much alive.