How Big a Deal is Neymar’s Reported Move to Saudi Arabia?

Yet another high-profile player is heading out of Europe

Neymar is reportedly making a move to Al Hilal in the Saudi Pro League.
Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

According to reporting from The Guardian and elsewhere, Brazilian soccer star Neymar is set to become the next high-profile player to move from a top European team to the Saudi Pro League. We’ve come a long way from the moment a decade ago when Neymar’s arrival at Barcelona heralded him as the game’s next superstar on the level of Lionel Messi (with whom he played at both Barcelona and PSG) and Cristiano Ronaldo.

From a pure financial standpoint, it isn’t hard to see why Neymar would head to the Saudi Pro League. Sportico has a rundown of the reported salaries various superstars — including Ronaldo, N’Golo Kante and Jordan Henderson — are making in the league in question. The word “multiples” could be used to compare old and new salaries, with Karim Benzema reportedly getting paid over 10 times what he was making annually at Real Madrid.

CBS Sports reports that Neymar is set to make — deep breath — $219 million a year at Al Hilal. But…how best to look at this deal? Is this is a case of the Saudi Pro League throwing money at an aging superstar, or is this the game-changing move the league in question seems to want in order to draw more eyes around the world to their teams?

While Neymar isn’t quite in the twilight of his career — he’s just a year and a half older than Harry Kane, who recently moved to Bayern Munich in a high-profile transfer for slightly more than Al Hilal is paying PSG for Neymar — he does seem to have its conclusion on his mind, if reports of him considering retiring from Brazil’s national team last year are any indication.

The fact that Neymar is moving from PSG is also worth noting. PSG is a curious case in European soccer — a team that’s been designed to win the UEFA Champions League, but hasn’t yet done so. In most cases, finishing at the top of a league table would be enough to secure a manager’s job; this is not the case at Paris Saint-Germain, and the team has gone through some of the sport’s top managers in an as-yet-unrealized search for continental glory.

There’s also the matter of Neymar’s own actions undermining his rise in the sport — you may recall that in 2021, Nike announced that an accusation of sexual assault, and Neymar’s refusal to cooperate with their investigation, led the sneaker company to end their relationship with him.

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Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Neymar’s move to Saudi Arabia will also mean that fans looking to see Neymar, Messi or Ronaldo play will need to look outside of Europe’s biggest leagues — and outside of Europe, period. It’s the latest sign that we’re witnessing a changing of the guard at the highest levels of the sport — with the likes of Kylian Mbappé and Erling Haaland taking hold of the spotlight.

Is Neymar’s move to Saudi Arabia a significant one? Yes — but it isn’t quite the game-changer that a potential Mbappé move to Saudi Arabia would have been. The latter is arguably the best player in the game right now and, at 24, is only entering his prime. That said, the current transfer window is still open — and there might be some surprises in store.

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