Saudi Pro League would be ‘very happy to welcome Messi’, says Emenalo

<span>Photograph: Ryan Sun/AP</span>
Photograph: Ryan Sun/AP

The Saudi Pro League’s sporting director has declared that any superstar player, including Lionel Messi, is welcome in the country.

Michael Emenalo, the former Chelsea technical director, took his SPL role in July, heading to the Gulf nation in the same summer as players such as Neymar, Karim Benzema and Riyad Mahrez, who had in turn followed in the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo, an Al-Nassr signing last December.

An outlay of about £760m in the summer made the league the second biggest-spending in football, behind the Premier League. Emenalo anticipates a quieter January but said: “The Saudi Pro League is open for business to any superstar that wants to come. If there is an indication that there is an opening and any of the superstars that you know and I know says: ‘We are interested in coming to this league,’ we will work very, very hard to bring them in.”

Before signing Neymar, Al-Hilal, 18 times champions, made an offer to Messi but the Argentinian joined Inter Miami instead. “The reasons that he ended up in MLS is something that I don’t have answers to,” said Emenalo. “If he decides next season that he wants to come here, we will be happy to welcome him. If he wants to stay in MLS, we will be very, very happy for him.”

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There is also no desire to see any of the stars who have moved to Saudi Arabia loaned out to European clubs. Emenalo observed the recent controversy in the Premier League regarding a possible loan move for Rúben Neves from Al-Hilal to Newcastle, who are in the market for a new midfielder after Sandro Tonali was hit with a 10-month ban for betting. Al-Hilal are one of four Saudi Arabian clubs majority-owned by the Public Investment Fund that also owns Newcastle.

“People have tried to connect something that really isn’t,” Emenalo said. “Rúben was at Wolves and anybody could have signed him but they didn’t.”

In November Premier League clubs voted against a temporary ban on related-party loans but Emenalo understands why there was reported interest. “I think that Newcastle football club has the right to investigate and look, probably because of their proximity to us, and we hope that other clubs will look and see other players that they like. I have also received interest from clubs from other countries, including the Premier League, for some of our star players that they would like to have but that doesn’t go out in the press. We say categorically: ‘No.’”