Neymar was “in negotiations” on Sunday to become the latest football superstar to decamp for Saudi Arabia, leaving Paris Saint-Germain just as Kylian Mbappe was brought back in from the cold by the French champions.
A source close to PSG told AFP that 31-year-old Neymar “no longer figures in the club or manager’s plans” with the Brazilian immediately linked to Al-Hilal in the Gulf kingdom.
Another source in Saudi Arabia said that “direct negotiations” between Neymar’s agents and the Public Investment Fund (PIF) were ongoing.
“If we reach an agreement with him in the coming hours, we would start negotiating with PSG immediately. He would play for Al-Hilal if a deal is sealed,” said the source.
Neymar joined PSG for a record 220 million euros ($241m) from Barcelona in 2017. Some media reports on Sunday claimed that Al-Hilal would offer in the region of $80 million for the Brazilian.
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 underwent surgery on his right ankle in early March, only returning to join PSG on their pre-season tour of Asia.
His time at PSG has been blighted by a catalogue of injuries.
Although he helped the club to the 2020 Champions League final he has often been sidelined for key games.
If Neymar does end up moving to Saudi Arabia he will join a growing list of top players lured to the oil-rich kingdom since Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Al-Nassr in January.
Al-Hilal have traditionally been one of Saudi Arabia’s top clubs and have been crowned Asian Champions League winners on four occasions.
– Al-Hilal squad –
They are 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.
Neymar’s anticipated departure from PSG would follow that of Lionel Messi who now plays for Inter Miami in the United States.
In a sign of the growing impact of the Saudis in world football, Roberto Mancini was reported Sunday to be the man lined up to become the manager of the country’s national team after his shock resignation fronm European champions Italy.
It has been a rocky build-up to the new Ligue 1 season for champions PSG with both Mbappe and Neymar left out of new coach Luis Enrique’s team for Saturday’s underwhelming opening goalless draw against Lorient.
After being sidelined for several weeks amid an ongoing contract dispute Mbappe watched from the Parc des Princes stands.
But the club’s prize asset is now back in the fold, for the time being at least, said PSG on Sunday.
“After very constructive and positive discussions between Paris Saint-Germain and Kylian Mbappe before the PSG-Lorient match, the player was reinstated in first team training this morning,” PSG said in a statement.
– Mbappe stand-off –
After a summer of flux at the Parc des Princes filled with new arrivals, doubts over Neymar’s future and Messi’s departure, it is the Mbappe stand-off that dominated the headlines.
The France captain has refused to sign an extension to his PSG deal, meaning he can leave for free next year, with Real Madrid long seen as his preferred destination.
Qatari-owned PSG want to sell him now and bring in a significant transfer fee for a player who cost 180 million euros from Monaco in 2017.
“The position is very clear. If Kylian wants to stay, he must sign a new contract. We can’t let the best player in the world today leave for free. It’s impossible,” PSG president Nasser al-Khelaifi said last month.
Mbappe had not been allowed to train with the first team and played only one of PSG’s five warm-up games and was not invited to the pre-season tour in Japan and South Korea.
He sat alongside fellow 2018 World Cup winner Ousmane Dembele, who completed his transfer from Barcelona earlier Saturday, as Luis Enrique handed debuts to six players against Lorient.