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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Neymar quits PSG to sign for Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal

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Paris - Neymar said he was relishing "new challenges and opportunities in new places" after he joined Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal from Paris Saint-Germain on a two-year deal Tuesday, becoming the latest big name lured to the oil-rich Gulf state.


The Brazil forward, 31, ends a six-year stay in the French capital and follows in the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Sadio Mane in swapping Europe for the Middle East. "I have achieved a lot in Europe and enjoyed special times, but I have always wanted to be a global player and test myself with new challenges and opportunities in new places," Neymar said in a statement from the Saudi Pro League. "I want to write new sporting history, and the Saudi Pro League has tremendous energy and quality players at the moment," he added.


"Al-Hilal is a giant club with fantastic fans, and it is the best in Asia. This gives me a feeling that it is the right decision for me at the right time with the right club. I love winning and scoring goals, and I plan to continue doing that in Saudi Arabia and with Al-Hilal."


Neymar joined PSG from Barcelona in 2017 for a world record fee of 222 million euros ($242 million), a few weeks before they recruited Kylian Mbappe. The Brazilian scored 118 goals in 173 matches for PSG, winning five Ligue 1 titles and three French Cups, but his time at PSG was blighted by a catalog of injuries. Although he helped the club to the 2020 Champions League final, which they lost 1-0 to Bayern Munich, he was sidelined for key games. Neymar underwent surgery on his right ankle in early March, only returning to join PSG on their pre-season tour of Asia. However, he no longer figured in new coach Luis Enrique's plans and was immediately linked with a move to Al-Hilal, where he will earn "100 million euros a season", according to a source close to the negotiations. PSG will not come close to recouping the fee they paid for Neymar but will still pocket close to 100 million euros as well, according to the same source. "It is always difficult to say goodbye to an amazing player like Neymar, one of the best players in the world," said PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi in a statement from the French champions.


"I will never forget the day he arrived at Paris Saint-Germain, and what he has contributed to our club and our project over the last six years. We had a great moment and Neymar will always be a big part of our history."


Al-Hilal have traditionally been one of Saudi Arabia's top clubs and have been crowned Asian Champions League winners on four occasions. They are also one of the four clubs -- along with Al-Nassr, Al-Ahli and Al-Ittihad -- owned by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF). - Neymar goes after Mbappe reintegrated - Al-Hilal is coached by Portugal's Jorge Jesus, who is in his second spell at the club, while the squad currently boasts four international players recently lured from Europe -- Ruben Neves, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Kalidou Koulibaly and Neymar's Brazilian compatriot Malcom. Last month Al-Hilal made a 300-million-euro bid for Mbappe, though the striker reportedly refused to meet with officials from the team. Neymar's departure from PSG follows that of Lionel Messi who now plays for Inter Miami in the United States.


It comes barely 48 hours after Mbappe was reinstated to PSG's first team, ending a stand-off over a contract dispute that had rumbled on for several weeks between the France captain and the Ligue 1 club. French media reported Mbappe made Neymar's departure one of the necessary conditions for him to sign a new contract in 2022 when the former was strongly linked with a move to Real Madrid. While Mbappe is now back in the fold, for the time being at least, Neymar has instead added himself to a growing list of high-profile players who have accepted the Saudi riches on offer. The deal brings an end to an indifferent relationship with PSG, a club he wanted to leave to return to Barcelona in 2019 before signing a contract extension until 2027. Paris was open to Neymar leaving last season, but his estimated salary of 30 millions euros a year put off any potential buyers. He started the season strongly but was hit by the latest in a series of ankle injuries at the World Cup in Qatar, where he equaled the late Pele's Brazil record with his 77th international goal. stt/cyj/mw/jc


Saudi Arabia has emerged as a force in the football transfer market this year, offering eye-watering salaries that have lured a host of big names including Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar to the oil-rich Gulf kingdom.


Here, AFP Sport takes a look at some of the biggest names to make the move:


The stars Cristiano Ronaldo's arrival in January to play for Riyadh-based Al-Nassr is what first drew global attention to ongoing efforts to boost the Saudi Pro League.


He was followed by his former Real Madrid teammate Karim Benzema, the 2022 Ballon d'Or winner who signed a three-year contract with Al-Ittihad in June.


Just a few days later, fellow Frenchman N'Golo Kante joined the same Jeddah-based club, also on a three-year deal.


The veteran and member of France's victorious 2018 World Cup squad will form a partnership with Brazilian Fabinho, arriving from Liverpool, in midfield. Still buzzing from his historic FA Cup semi-final hat-trick for Manchester City in April, Algeria captain Riyad Mahrez has signed for four years with Jeddah-based Al-Ahli, a transfer estimated at 35 million euros. Senegalese star Sadio Mane, who helped Liverpool to the Premier League and Champions League titles before heading to a Bundesliga crown with Bayern Munich, signed with Ronaldo's Al-Nassr at the start of this month for a reported annual salary of 40 million euros plus 10 million euros in results-based bonuses.


The latest coup for the Saudis is Brazil forward Neymar who signed on Tuesday for Al-Hilal on a two-year contract after six seasons with French champions Paris Saint-Germain. Sources close to the deal say his salary, like Benzema and Kante, will be around 100 million euros per season. PSG are likely to receive the same amount as a fee, considerably less than the world record fee of 222 million euros they paid Barcelona for his services in 2017.


- Past their prime - Along with top-tier stars, several other big names in the sport are starting new chapters in Saudi Arabia. Marcelo Brozovic, who captained Inter Milan in last season's Champions League final, has signed a three-year deal with Al-Nassr, who reportedly paid a transfer fee of 18 million euros.


Another former Liverpool star, Brazilian international Roberto Firmino, left the team after eight seasons for Al-Ahli, who have also landed Edouard Mendy of Senegal. Kalidou Koulibaly, for his part, bade farewell to Stamford Bridge for Al-Hilal for a reported transfer fee of 23 million euros.


- Rising talent - It is not just fading stars who are making the trip to the Gulf. The 28-year-old Ivorian midfielder Seko Fofana has also joined Ronaldo at Al-Nassr, leaving French outfit Lens as they prepare to return to the Champions League. After eight years with Lazio, Serbian midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, also 28, has inked a three-year deal with Al-Hilal. He will be joined by 26-year-old Ruben Neves, the Portuguese star who was previously tipped for a move to Barcelona.


Another 26-year-old, Frenchman Allan Saint-Maximin, has joined Al-Ahli from Newcastle, which is 80 percent owned by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund.


- The coaches - The Saudi Pro League has also drawn renowned coaches. Dismissed by Aston Villa in October, iconic former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard signed with Al-Ettifaq until 2025, and a clip of him introducing himself in halting Arabic has gone viral on social media. Former Croatia and West Ham boss Slaven Bilic will join the Al-Fateh bench. After leaving Fenerbahce in June, former Benfica coach Jorge Jesus has returned to Al-Hilal, where he worked in 2018-2019. And in late July, Al-Ahli named 35-year-old German Matthias Jaissle, regarded as one of the most promising managers of his generation, as their new coach.


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