Following six seasons at Paris Saint-Germain, Neymar became the latest superstar soccer player to take the riches on offer from the Saudi Pro League, completing a move to Al Hilal on Tuesday.
The clubs reached an agreement on the transfer of the Brazil forward for a reported 90 million euros ($98 million), a record for a league that is now financially backed by the oil-rich state.
Al Hilal, a record 18-time national champion, is one of four Saudi clubs effectively nationalized by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), the sovereign wealth fund that claims assets of about $700 billion.
The 31-year-old Neymar signed a two-year contract that is expected to earn him an annual salary of about $100 million. That would be around half of the reported salary being taken home by Cristiano Ronaldo, who plays for Al Nassr and whose move to Saudi in January sparked a slew of transfers to the kingdom by players like Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez and Jordan Henderson.
“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 the club’s announcement. “I want to write new sporting history, and the Saudi Pro League has tremendous energy and quality players at the moment.”
PSG confirmed the departure of Neymar in a statement, with president Nasser Al-Khelaïfi describing him as “one of the best players in the world.”
“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,” Al-Khelaïfi said. “We have had great moments and Neymar will always be a big part of our history.”
Yet he never won the Champions League with PSG after his move from Barcelona for 222 million euros (now $244 million), which remains a world-record transfer fee in soccer.
Neymar reportedly wanted to rejoin Barcelona but the Spanish club couldn’t afford the financial package required for the transfer. No other top European club was willing — or wealthy enough — to sign Neymar, who has struggled with injuries in recent years.
He was an undoubtedly talented yet often frustrating figure at the PSG, which put together a star-studded forward line of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi and now only has one of them left.
Messi joined Inter Miami this offseason and Mbappe has one year left on his deal, after which he is likely to move to Real Madrid.
Mbappe has been mired in a transfer standoff with PSG and was the subject of an offer by Al Hilal, which he turned down. The French club said Sunday it has had “constructive and positive talks” with Mbappe.
Al Hilal also has Brazilian winger Malcom, Portugal midfielder Rúben Neves and Senegal defender Kalidou Koulibaly in its squad.
Malcom and Neves were the subjects of the two previous most expensive transfer fees paid by a Saudi club — at a reported 60 million euros ($65 million) and 55 million euros ($60 million) from Wolverhampton, respectively.