Saudi Pro League director of football Michael Emenalo has opened up about why Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe turned down a move to Saudi Arabia during the summer.
The former Chelsea technical director was once famed for his Midas touch in recruiting star players like Mohamed Salah, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, and N’Golo Kante. He recently stepped into a key role to transform the Saudi Pro League into a global footballing force.
Yet, even with a war chest that saw Saudi clubs disburse an astonishing £701.3 million in the 2023 summer transfer window, players like Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe remained elusive targets.
In a candid one-on-one with Sky Sports News’ chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol, Emenalo addressed the situation. Solhekol asked:
“Some of the players who didn’t go to Saudi Arabia, Kylian Mbappe for instance, Lionel Messi. What were the reasons they gave for not going?”
Emenalo indicated that there wasn’t a singular, identifiable reason for their reluctance:
“I don’t think there was any reason needed. There was no explanation needed. You don’t know what is happening within a certain football family, whether it’s personal or with their clubs, or with individuals and their family. We can’t really know for sure.
“What we know is you put your best foot forward, try to work as hard as possible to put a convincing argument together as to why the player should join the adventure, and they make their decision. We solicit no further explanation.”
Lionel Messi’s path diverged toward Inter Miami, spurning the Saudi offer, despite being a free agent after his Paris Saint-Germain chapter.
As for Kylian Mbappe, the suspense around a summer move fizzled out as he decided to stick with PSG. Saudi clubs had laid out the red carpet with massive wages for both players, but their lack of interest was widely noted and reported.