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 from the cold by the French champions.
A source close to PSG told AFP that 31-year-old Neymar “no longer has a club number or manager’s plans” with the Brazilian immediately linked with 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) are ongoing.
“If we reach an agreement with him in the coming hours, we will immediately start negotiations with PSG. He will play for Al-Hilal if an agreement is sealed,” said the source.
Neymar joined PSG for a record 220 million euros ($241 million) from Barcelona in 2017. Some media reports on Sunday said Al-Hilal would offer in the region of $80 million for Brazilians.
Last month Al-Hilal made a 300-million-euro bid for Mbappe, although the striker reportedly refused to meet with team officials.
Neymar underwent surgery on his right ankle in early March, only to return to join PSG on their pre-season tour of Asia.
His time at PSG was marred by a catalog of injuries.
Although he helped the club to the final of the 2020 Champions League he was often sidelined for important games.
If Neymar moves to Saudi Arabia he will join a growing list of top players who have been lured to the oil-rich kingdom since Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Al-Nassr in January.
Al-Hilal is traditionally one of the top clubs in Saudi Arabia and has been crowned winners of the Asian Champions League four times.
They are coached by Portugal’s Jorge Jesus, who is in his second spell at the club, while the squad now features four international players recently lured from Europe — Ruben Neves, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Kalidou Koulibaly and Neymar’s Brazilian compatriot Malcom.
Neymar’s expected departure from PSG follows that of Lionel Messi who is currently playing for Inter Miami in the United States.
In a sign of the Saudis’ growing impact on world football, Roberto Mancini was reported on Sunday to be the man in line to become the country’s national team manager following his shock resignation from European champions Italy. .
It’s been a rocky build-up to the new Ligue 1 season for champions PSG with Mbappe and Neymar out of new coach Luis Enrique’s squad for a poor goalless opening draw on Saturday against Lorient.
After being sidelined for several weeks amid an ongoing contract dispute Mbappe watched from the stands at the Parc des Princes.
But the club’s prized asset is now back in the fold, at least for the time being, PSG said on Sunday.
“After very good and positive discussions between Paris Saint-Germain and Kylian Mbappe before the PSG-Lorient match, the player was returned to first team training this morning,” PSG said in a statement.
Mbappe is a stand-off
After a summer of change at the Parc des Princes filled with new arrivals, doubt over Neymar’s future and Messi’s departure, the Mbappe stand-off has dominated the headlines.
The France captain has refused to sign an extension to his PSG contract, meaning he could leave on a free next year, with Real Madrid long considered his preferred destination.
Qatari-owned PSG want to sell him now and bring 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 cannot allow the best player in the world today to leave for free. It is impossible,” said PSG president Nasser al-Khelaifi last month.
Mbappe was not allowed to train with the first team and played just one of PSG’s five warm-up games and was not invited to the pre-season tour of Japan and South Korea.
He sat alongside fellow 2018 World Cup winner Ousmane Dembele, who completed his move from Barcelona earlier on Saturday, as Luis Enrique handed out debuts to six players against Lorient.