Neymar lands in Saudi ahead of unveiling ceremony
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, (AFP) – Neymar was greeted with much fanfare Friday as he arrived in Saudi Arabia where he joins a growing list of big names lured to the oil-rich kingdom.
The 31-year-old Brazil forward who will be unveiled as an Al-Hilal player on Saturday after six seasons with French champions Paris Saint-Germain landed in a Riyadh airport equipped with extra security for the occasion.
Neymar was received in an airport lounge packed with club officials and press, a large diamond-studded cross hanging around his neck as he posed for pictures.
A rock star welcome will await him at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh where he will be unveiled before thousands of fans on Saturday.
“We will hold a big party worthy of the samba dancer,” said an al-Hilal official who requested anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the press.
Neymar’s two-year contract with Al-Hilal will see him earn a salary of around 100 million euros per season, according to sources close to the deal.
He follows Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Sadio Mane in swapping Europe for the Saudi Pro League, which has a hit-list of high-profile targets.
Neymar 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 catalogue 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.
He underwent surgery on his right ankle in early March, only returning to join PSG on their pre-season tour of Asia.
With billions of dollars in oil wealth, Saudi Arabia has been on a buying spree of sports assets as part of plans to diversify its economy and attract tourism and investment.
The conservative monarchy, often criticised for its human rights record, bought English club Newcastle United in 2021, the same year it hosted its first Formula One Grand Prix.
Saudi Arabia, whose neighbour Qatar hosted the World Cup last year, is tipped to bid for the tournament after exploring a tri-continental edition with Egypt and Greece.