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Saudi Pro League: Neymar set to sign for Al-Hilal

Neymar is set to become the latest star to switch to the Saudi Pro League after Paris Saint-Germain agreed a €90m deal with Al-Hilal.

The 31-year-old is said to have agreed personal terms on a contract worth a reported €100m a year, ending his colourful six-year spell at the Parc des Princes.

Neymar joined Les Parisiens from Barcelona in 2017 in a world record €222m deal but was not part of new boss Luis Enrique's plans, having previously quarrelled with the coach at Camp Nou.

A move appeared inevitable after he was left out of the squad for PSG's Ligue 1 opener against Lorient, which they drew 0-0, and with fears over his injury record, the deal to sell him to Al-Hilal is seen as good business for the French club, who are 12/1 to win the Champions League.

End of an era in Paris

After bursting through at Santos and winning the Copa Libertadores in 2011, Neymar moved to Europe in 2013, signing for Barcelona.

A successful spell followed but he struggled towards the end of his time in Catalonia and joined PSG to help them conquer Europe and potentially catapult him to the Ballon d'Or.

However, despite moments of magic, his returns have diminished amid rumours of infighting and his malaise is seen as characteristic of a club that looks to have gone backwards, signalling a change in transfer strategy. 

Although they have spent over €200m this summer, PSG have moved away from their policy of signing superstars for huge fees and massive wages, possibly to comply with FFP.

Instead, they have identified leading French players such as Lucas Hernandez and Ousmane Dembele or rising stars in the mould of Manuel Ugarte and Goncalo Ramos. They have also shrewdly acquired Milan Skriniar and Marco Asensio on free transfers.

With Lionel Messi heading to the MLS and Inter Miami in June, Kylian Mbappe is now the last man standing in their previously star-studded attack.

Mbappe himself has rejected a move to Saudi this summer, with him likely to see out his contract and move on as a free agent next summer.

Another big name heads to Saudi

Although a blow for PSG, Ligue 1 and European football, Neymar's move is the latest boost for football in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Hilal are coached by respected former Benfica and Flamengo boss Jorge Jesus and have already signed the likes of Ruben Neves, Kalidou Koulibaly and Sergej Milkinkovic-Savic in 2023.

Karim Benzema, 5/4 Top Goalscorer, has also moved to Saudi and will play alongside Fabinho and N'Golo Kante at Al-Ittihad, while Jordan Henderson has reunited with Steven Gerrard at Al Ettifaq.

Riyad Mahrez and Allan Saint-Maximin will team up at Al-Ahli and Sadio Mane and Marcelo Brozovic will feature alongside Cristiano Ronaldo at Al-Nassr.

The wages on offer and the opportunity to further grow the game in an emerging market is such that players are happy to forego the Champions League and the opportunities on offer in the Middle East mean more could follow before the end of the Saudi transfer window on 23rd September.

An unfulfilled talent?

Despite winning 13 trophies, including five Ligue 1 titles and helping the club reach their maiden Champions League final in 2020, Neymar's spell in Paris has been somewhat underwhelming.

Questions regarding both his off-field exploits and his on-field demeanour during his 173 appearances have often overshadowed his time in Paris and he has, at times, proved a divisive character, who has been regularly linked with other clubs.

His proposed wages at Al-Hilal, 11/4 to win the Pro League, are reportedly four times more than his current already meteoric €25m salary in Paris will hardly further damage his relationship with the PSG fans, especially as he has not played a competitive game for the club since February due to an ankle injury.

When he joined in 2017, Neymar's goal was to win the Champions League but having failed to elevate the club to those heights, he could be accused of giving up on winning major European silverware by pursuing his switch to Saudi.

Injuries hint at the right time to move

Furthermore, where does this leave his future with the Brazilian national team? The 124-cap star has been the Selecao's poster boy over the last decade but it is unclear if he has consulted interim boss Fernando Diniz or Carlo Ancelotti, who will take over ahead of next summer's Copa America, about his move.

Staying fit for the summer could be one of Neymar's motivations behind the move, with recurring injuries becoming a theme in France due to the overly-physical nature of Ligue 1.

The Saudi Pro League is improving but undoubtedly offers a more sedate pace of play and his new club coach Jesus may even be able to find a role that limits the opportunities for him to pick up injuries.

If he can get the best Neymar, then Jesus still has an incredible player at his disposal. Cynics may question his motives for moving to Saudi but a lighter pace of life in an emerging division might be what is needed for him to rediscover his love for the game.

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