Could Lionel Messi be set to leave Paris Saint-Germain and join Cristiano Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia? ESPN’s Insider Notebook has the latest.
Jump to: Everton chaos harming transfers | Clubs tracking US star Weah | Man United seek record sponsor | City help Ronaldo fans get best experience
Saudi league has Messi in its sights
The Saudi Pro League is keen to tempt Lionel Messi to Saudi Arabia to join Cristiano Ronaldo, sources have told ESPN.
Ronaldo has signed a 2½ year deal worth $200 million a year with Al Nassr, for whom he made his league debut in a 1-0 win over Ettifaq on Sunday. Meanwhile, Messi is under contract with Paris Saint-Germain until the end of this season and the French club are keen to extend his deal. But Saudi league officials are making no secret of their desire to eventually have Argentina’s World Cup-winning captain play in their country.
Football fans in the Saudi capital of Riyadh got a taste of what it could be like having both superstars in their domestic league when the pair faced off last week in a friendly between PSG and a Saudi select team made up of players from Al Nassr and Riyadh rivals Al Hilal. PSG won the match 5-4 with both Messi and Ronaldo — who have won the Ballon d’Or 12 times between them — getting on the scoresheet at the King Fahd International Stadium.
Sources have told ESPN that Saudi clubs will get help to sign top players from Europe following Ronaldo’s arrival at Al Nassr.
Messi has a contract at PSG until the summer with the option to extend by another year. It has not been ruled out that the 35-year-old could extend his stay in Paris but sources have told ESPN that when he decides to leave, there will be Saudi Pro League clubs in the queue for his signature.
Messi could expect to earn a salary in Saudi in line with Ronaldo’s mammoth contract, which has made the Portugal captain the best-paid athlete in the world.
Saudi professional clubs are allowed to register seven foreign players, but the limit is set to be raised to eight in an effort to tempt more overseas players to the league. — Rob Dawson
Everton chaos preventing players moving to Goodison
Everton are resigned to missing out on January loan target Anthony Elanga because of Manchester United‘s reluctance to expose the 20-year-old forward to the ongoing chaos and uncertainty at Goodison Park, sources have told ESPN.
United manager Erik ten Hag is prepared to allow Elanga to leave Old Trafford on loan this month to build his first-team experience. Sources have said that Borussia Dortmund is the most likely destination for the player, whose only senior start since the World Cup was in the Carabao Cup against Charlton on Jan. 10.
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But while Everton have maintained a long-standing interest in the Sweden international, sources have said that United see few potential benefits from sending Elanga to a team that is embroiled in a relegation battle. United’s football department had already expressed a reluctance to sending Elanga to Everton even before the dismissal of manager Frank Lampard this week plunged the Merseyside club into even greater uncertainty. There have been reports this week the club has been put up for sale (which have been denied by owner Farhad Moshiri), while Netherlands international Arnaut Danjuma backed out of a move to Goodison and joined Tottenham Hotspur instead.
Dortmund, meanwhile, are keen to take Elanga to the Bundesliga and with the German club having a long track record of providing a platform for young players to play and develop, sources have said that a move to Signal Iduna Park is United’s preferred option. — Mark Ogden
USMNT’s Weah being tracked by European clubs
Lille and United States forward Tim Weah is reportedly on the radar of several other European clubs, though making a move before the winter transfer window closes is unlikely.
Among the clubs linked with Weah are Bundesliga outfit Borussia Monchengladbach and LaLiga side Sevilla. A source with knowledge of Gladbach’s thinking has confirmed to ESPN that Weah is a player the club admires and is tracking.
However, Die Fohlen have a greater need for a striker at the moment, especially if Marcus Thuram departs, and that isn’t a position they see Weah filling. While Weah has played as a central striker at times in his career, recent seasons have seen him deployed as a wide player, even taking a turn as an attacking full-back for Lille.
He has filled a similar role for the U.S. national team, including at the recent World Cup. It seems likely that any firm approach for the player will happen later on down the road. — Jeff Carlisle
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Man United’s sponsor search took them to Davos
Manchester United sent a delegation of senior officials, led by chief executive Richard Arnold, to the Davos World Economic Forum last week in an attempt to accelerate their search for a world-record shirt sponsorship deal, sources have told ESPN.
United announced in December that their existing deal with TeamViewer, a German IT company, would be terminated less than two years into a five-year agreement worth $58m a year. Although the decision was described by United as “mutual,” TeamViewer shareholders Petrus had written to the company a month earlier to call for the partnership to be ended, describing it as “appalling judgement.”
With United suffering a huge annual drop from their previous $79m-a-year shirt deal with Chevrolet when they signed the agreement with TeamViewer during the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2021, sources have said that the cancellation of the TeamViewer deal gives United the opportunity to reclaim their place at the top of the shirt sponsorship earnings table.
Manchester City‘s shirt deal with Etihad Airways is reportedly the biggest in the Premier League, worth an annual $64m, with Real Madrid‘s $77m-a-year partnership with Dubai-based airline Emirates the largest in the world game.
But with United now appearing to be on an upward trajectory again under manager Erik ten Hag — with the team breaking into the top four of the Premier League table — sources have told ESPN that the Old Trafford hierarchy are confident of finding a sponsor to replace TeamViewer that is prepared to pay a world-record figure to have its name on the team’s shirt.
And although it was reported that Arnold, who will mark his first year in charge of United next week, travelled to the Swiss town of Davos under the instruction from the club’s owners, the Glazer family, to find a buyer for the team, sources have told ESPN that the focus of the trip was to boost the search for a new sponsor because of kit production for the 2023-24 season needing to start in late March.
Arnold was accompanied in Davos by Victoria Timpson, United’s CEO of Alliances and Partnerships, and Ellie Norman, the chief communications officer, who has recently started her role at Old Trafford after leaving her post as the head of global marketing and communications with Formula 1.
As part of their charm offensive in Davos, United rented a storefront in the town with a luxury lounge designed to project the club’s image and brand to potential sponsors and partners. — Mark Ogden
Ronaldo fails to find the net in winning Al Nassr debut
Cristiano Ronaldo’s first game for Al Nassr ends in a 1-0 win over Al Ittifaq in the Saudi Pro League.
Al Nassr brought in Man City experts to improve stadium experience
Cristiano Ronaldo’s new club Al Nassr have been taking advice from Manchester City in a bid to improve their stadium, sources have told ESPN.
Consultants from City were drafted in by the Saudi Pro League club to make recommendations about changes to Mrsool Park in Riyadh.
City have worked to improve the experience at the Etihad Stadium and developed concepts like “The Tunnel Club,” which allows hospitality guests the chance to watch the players line up before taking to the field and see the teams warm up by the side of the pitch.
Al Nassr have experienced a surge in demand for tickets and merchandise since Ronaldo’s arrival and are hoping to improve the fan experience at the stadium.
They already have three royal boxes and offer supporters the chance to watch games from sofas behind the two benches. — Rob Dawson