Lionel Messi is bound for Saudi Arabia then.
After months of speculation over whether or not he would join nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo in the Middle East, reports in France revealed on Tuesday morning that a deal is complete.
The Argentine World Cup winner, 35, will sign a massive contract worth £522million at Saudi side Al-Hilal.
It will also see him reignite his long-standing rivalry with Ronaldo, who plays for Al-Hilal’s rivals Al-Nassr in the Gulf state.
As Saudi Arabia continues to make power plays to establish itself as a global sports hub, the prospect of the two greatest players of their, or any, generation going head-to-head in their league is a mouth-watering one.
Lionel Messi, wife Antonela Roccuzzo and sons Mateo and Ciro pose with horses during their recent visit to Saudi Arabia which led to the Argentine player being suspended by PSG
Messi poses with a falcon during his Saudi visit amid rumours he could play football there
Cristiano Ronaldo with his family in Saudi Arabia after he signed for Al-Nassr back in January
Ronaldo and his partner Georgina Rodriguez enjoy the sunshine in the Saudi capital
The Portuguese star, 38, is attempting to lead Al-Nassr to the Saudi Pro League title having signed for the club after his acrimonious departure from Manchester United
At 35, Messi is moving from the autumn to the winter of his astonishing career.
While Messi – and his family – may have preferred a move back to Barcelona, where he emerged from the academy ranks to become their greatest player, the Spanish club’s well-documented financial issues have proven to be an unbeatable hurdle.
In order to register Messi’s contract with LaLiga, who run Spain’s top division, Barcelona needed to lose around €200m [£175m] from their existing wage bill.
If they re-signed Messi, who currently commands wages approaching £1m-a-week, they would have had to sell several existing big earners to stay within the league limits.
So while Barcelona fans were beginning to get excited that Messi’s two-week PSG suspension after an unsanctioned ambassadorial trip to Saudi could have led him back to the Nou Camp, it was never likely to become reality.
There was also interest from Inter Miami in the United States but in terms of pure financial incentive, the Saudi offer blows everyone else out the water.
Messi has become disillusioned with Paris Saint-Germain and will leave the club this summer
The fallout marks the end of a lukewarm love affair between Messi and the Parisian club
Messi already has ties to the country. Last year, he agreed to a £25m-a-year deal to work as a tourism ambassador for the Saudis.
His visit with wife Antonela and their children Mateo, seven, and Ciro, five, last week saw them pose for a set of nice promotional pictures which the Saudis no doubt plan to use in their holiday brochures.
There were snaps of Messi with a falcon perched on his arm, playing board game Carrom, of the family learning the local craft of palm-weaving and everyone playing arcade games at a Riyadh amusement park.
The Saudi minister of tourism Ahmed Al Khateeb tweeted: ‘I am happy to welcome Messi and his family to Saudi to enjoy the magical tourist destinations and authentic experiences.
‘We welcome visitors from all around the world to experience a unique trip to Saudi Arabia and its hospitality.’
Messi and his son try out the board game Carrom during the promotional trip to Riyadh
The Messi family learned the art of palm-weaving during their Middle East trip this week
The family visited an amusement park in Riyadh as part of Messi’s ambassadorial role
The Saudis are keen to make use of Messi’s global profile to promote tourism to the country
Messi and his wife pose for pictures during their visit to Diriyah earlier this week
Trips to the petting zoo or excursions to Diriyah could become regular occurrences when they live in the kingdom and for an idea of the lifestyle, he only has to look at Ronaldo.
The 38-year-old Portuguese star signed for Al-Nassr at the beginning of the year having left Manchester United by mutual consent following his criticism of the club in an interview with Piers Morgan.
Initially, Ronaldo and his family were staying in the luxury Kingdom Suite at the Four Seasons hotel in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
The 3,000ft suite, spread over two floors, offers sweeping views over the city and is so expensive there isn’t even a cost listed on the hotel’s website. Estimates put the cost of the bill for Ronaldo and his entourage at over £250,000.
The five-star hotel’s website boasts: ‘Entertain guests with unparalleled views of Riyadh. Our newest two-storey suite spans the 48th and 50th floors of the hotel, with a soaring living room, a private office, a dining room and a media room.’
Ronaldo and his family could enjoy ‘the best of dishes from China, Japan, India and the Middle East, with the freshest ingredients to order’ delivered directly to their room.
Cristiano Ronaldo and his family stayed at the Four Seasons hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Ronaldo is on a £175million-a-year deal at Al Nassr but Messi’s contract could be higher
Messi and his family could certainly stay here until they find more permanent accommodation should they arrive over the summer.
Ronaldo, partner Georgina Rodriguez and their five children moved out of the hotel and into a new home in February, just in time for a visit from his mother Dolores Aveiro.
The new home is said to be in an exclusive compound with state-of-the-art security and all amenities such as gyms, shops and restaurants nearby. It is understood the family are renting the mansion.
Ronaldo and his family have also sampled some of the exclusive restaurants on offer in Riyadh, including Miyazo, which offers ‘contemporary Japanese cuisine driven by passion.’
He also shared a dinner of Lebanese food with Saudi minister of sports Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal in Diriyah.
We’ve also seen Ronaldo attend various events related to his newly-adopted country. He donned traditional dress and posed with a sword to mark the anniversary of the country’s foundation back in February.
Pictures from inside the Four Seasons Hotel in Riyadh, where Ronaldo and his family stayed
The 38-year-old star stayed in the hotel’s lavish ‘Kingdom Suite’ – which covers two floors
Messi, of course, would be even better placed to fulfil his ambassadorial role if he moved to Saudi itself but given Ronaldo has 579 million Instagram followers and Georgina 50m, simply posting any kind of picture in the country is priceless advertising.
On the pitch, Ronaldo has scored 12 goals in 16 matches so far for Al-Nassr, who are currently second in the Pro League standings, five points behind leaders Al-Ittihad.
With four matches remaining, Ronaldo still has the chance to lead his team to title glory, though it hasn’t been entirely smooth.
When Al-Nassr lost 2-0 to Al-Hilal last month, rival fans chanted ‘Messi, Messi’ at Ronaldo, who appeared to grab his crotch as he walked off the pitch. It does at least prove Messi will be a hugely popular addition to the league.
The act was heavily criticised in some quarters, with lawyer Nouf bin Ahmed saying it was ‘a crime of public dishonour’ before calling for Ronaldo to be ‘arrested and deported.’
Ronaldo gives the thumbs up as he attended Saudi founding anniversary events in February
The Al Nassr player posed with a sword and in traditional dress amid Founding Day events
The star attended the boxing match between Tommy Fury and Jake Paul back in February
Ronaldo and his partner Georgina pose for a nice Instagram picture
When coach Rudi Garcia left the club by mutual consent, it was reported the reason was that Ronaldo ‘wasn’t satisfied’ with his tactics. It was also speculated Garcia had a ‘blazing dressing room row’ with the team.
But everything Ronaldo has ever done is under the microscope and an insight by Piers Morgan to Tatler magazine earlier this year said the footballer and his family were ‘absolutely loving it’ in Saudi.
When Rodriguez made her social debut at the Joy Awards, she was ‘the talk of the city.’
Throughout their spectacular careers Messi and Ronaldo have always competed goal-for-goal and trophy-for-trophy. They have always been rivals, though the frostiness has thawed with passing age.
We will soon find out if Riyadh is big enough for the both of them.
Ronaldo courted controversy when he appeared to grab his crotch in response to opposition fans shouting ‘Messi, Messi’ in his direction