Saudi Pro League chief reveals four marquee transfer targets

Saudi Pro League director of football Michael Emenalo admits there’s interest in taking Lionel Messi, Kevin De Bruyne, Kylian Mbappe and Mohamed Salah to the Middle East.

The former Chelsea and AS Monaco technical director, who spoke to 90min’s Talking Transfers x Inside Recruitment series in October, took up his role in July, at a time when four PIF-backed clubs – Al Hilal, Al Nassr, Al Ahli and Al Ittihad – launched an all-out offensive to sign the world’s best players.

Karim Benzema, Neymar, Sadio Mane, N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez were five of a number of high-profile players to take up the offer of playing in Saudi Arabia, each earning mammoth contracts that place them among the top earners in world football.

Saudi’s summer spending is set to continue in January and next summer, with Mohamed Salah and Casemiro among the top targets, and Emenalo has confirmed in a detailed interview with Sky Sports some of the players the Pro League is interested in prising away from Europe and the US.

“Mo Salah, like [Lionel] Messi, [Karim] Benzema, [Cristiano] Ronaldo and the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, these are players that when there is a sense of availability for them, we are willing to listen,” he said.

“But we also understand that Mo is happy where he is at present and in a historic, wonderful club at Liverpool. We respect that very much and we don’t want to come across as putting any pressure on him.

“But if there is any interest to do something, Mo Salah is a player that you want in your league, in any league.”

Mohamed SalahMohamed Salah

Mohamed Salah is one of the Saudi Pro League’s top targets / Justin Setterfield/GettyImages

He added on Liverpool’s desire to keep Salah: “We respect Liverpool and in this scenario, the initiative to do anything won’t come from us. There has to be an aligned interest from all parties involved.

“It’s a very personal thing, as a player that I recruited [for Chelsea] and I like. There’s nothing I’m saying that is new or ground-breaking – that a player of this level of talent is available and your league wants him.

“If Mo Salah is available, has an interest to come and everything is aligned, I would be incredibly delighted.”

Emenalo also revealed that the door is not closed on Mbappe, who was the subject of an accepted world record £259m transfer bid from Al Hilal last summer and is out of contract this summer.

“It’s an open conversation, but we don’t know what he wants to do. Our position is very clear – any of these players know where we are,” Emenalo said of Mbappe. “If there’s any interest in being part of what we are trying to build now or for the future, you can’t turn down an opportunity to see if Mbappe can join us. Kylian is someone I love as a player.”

Lionel MessiLionel Messi

Lionel Messi joined Inter Miami in July / via Inter Miami

On whether he was close to signing in the summer, he added: “It’s never close if it’s not done… If it’s not done, it’s a huge chasm. I can’t say how deep the conversation went, but there was an expressed interest that if he was ready to come, there was a club ready to make space for him.”

Emenalo also extended an open invitation to Lionel Messi to join the Saudi Pro League revolution, stating despite his move to Inter Miami in July on a two-year contract with the option to extend: “When you have two of the best players from the last few decades meet each other [Ronaldo and Messi]… We expect it to produce an incredible amount of excitement. It should be fun for the fans and something we’re looking forward to.

“What we know for certain is if Messi is still willing and ambitious to perform and is willing to do so in Saudi Arabia, I think we will be able to find him a club to express his skills. It’s a possibility if he wants to come here, we will work hard to find him a club.”


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