Lionel Messi’s rumoured mega move to Saudi Arabian football club Al-Hilal could fall apart because of concerns harboured by his wife over life in Riyadh, reports have claimed.
Antonela Roccuzzo, who married the Argentine superstar footballer in 2017 and shares three children with him, may prove an obstacle to her husband’s transfer to the Saudi capital, according to French outlet l’Equipe.
The deal, which an AFP source claims has been verbally agreed, would see Messi leave his current club Paris Saint Germain this summer on a two-year contract reportedly worth an eye-watering £522 million to play in the Saudi Pro League.
But Messi’s father Jorge today denied his son had made a deal with any club and insisted the footballer’s options remain open.
And Antonela is said to be wary of moving the couple’s three young sons – Thiago, 10, Mateo, 7, and Ciro, 5 – to the Middle East, with l’Equipe reporting she ‘can’t imagine’ family life in the Kingdom.
Antonela tied the knot with her World Cup-winning husband six years ago, but the pair were childhood sweethearts and remained together throughout Messi’s illustrious career.
Any concerns held by Antonela are therefore likely to hold considerable sway over any transfer decisions made by Messi, who at age 35 is entering the twilight of his career.
Lionel Messi’s wife Antonela Roccuzzo (left) is reportedly reluctant for the couple along with their three children to move to Saudi Arabia and would prefer they stay in Europe
Antonela Roccuzzo attends the Louis Vuitton Womenswear Fall Winter 2023-2024 show as part of Paris Fashion Week at Orsay Museum on March 06, 2023 in Paris, France
Antonela and Messi are pictured with their three sons Thiago (L), Mateo (R) and Ciro (C)
Messi is set to leave PSG at the end of the season and he has an offer on the table from Saudi Pro League side Al Hilal which is worth a staggering £522m
Messi and his wife recently made a visit to Saudi Arabia with their sons Ciro and Mateo as part of the footballer’s duties as a tourism ambassador in the country
Antonela Roccuzzo attends the Louis Vuitton Womenswear Fall Winter 2023-2024 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on March 06
The 35-year-old (pictured alongside Antonela) signed a £25m-a-year deal with Saudi Arabia last year to become a tourism ambassador
The story of the superstar couple’s relationship is the stuff of legend.
Antonela is the cousin of one of Messi’s childhood friends and teammates, Lucas Scagilia, and the pair first met as young children in the suburbs of their hometown – the central Argentine city of Rosario.
According to Scagilia’s father, Messi ‘could not look away from her for a second’ when they were kids, and whenever Antonela stayed at Scagilia’s house, Messi would find an excuse to visit in the hope that he could catch a glimpse of her.
Messi and Scagilia played together for Argentine side Newell’s Old Boys, and as Antonela began attending the games as a spectator, she and Messi grew close.
They were separated when the diminutive maestro moved to Barcelona to pursue his footballing dreams at age 13.
But five years later, tragedy bought them back together when Antonela’s best friend was killed in a devastating car accident.
Messi, a young prodigy taking the world by storm in Barcelona, immediately jumped on a plane back to his hometown to comfort his childhood crush in the aftermath of her loss.
It was in their late teens they began dating – but the relationship did not solidify until the late 2000s, when Antonela gave up her postgraduate studies in dentistry to join Messi in Spain.
Since then, Antonela has been by Messi’s side to witness all his triumphs, including each of his seven Ballon d’Or victories in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2021.
But Antonela is a superstar in her own right. She boasts more than 37 million Instagram followers, is an active philanthropist and owns a successful children’s fashion label in Argentina.
Laureus World Sportsman of the Year 2023 nominee Lionel Messi and wife Antonela Roccuzzo arrives at the 2023 Laureus World Sport Awards Paris red carpet arrivals at Cour Vendome on May 08, 2023 in Paris, France
Messi and Antonela looked sleek at yesterday’s red carpet event in Paris
Antonela is pictured with her three sons at the World Cup in Qatar last year, where her husband sealed his place in history guiding Argentina to glory
Lionel Messi’s stunning wife Antonela Roccuzzo has been by his side for every one of his major footballing triumphs
Messi, an ambassador for the Gulf state’s joint bid for the 2030 World Cup, is expected to leave PSG when his contract ends on June 30.
Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal appears to be his most likely destination, despite Antonela’s concerns.
L’Equipe claims the offer on the table for Messi is a two-year deal with the option of a third – at which point the maestro would be 38 years old and nearing retirement. He would be set to make £522 million over the course of the contract.
Messi himself would still prefer to stay in Europe and it is said that he is keeping an eye on the financial situation at former club Barcelona, where the Argentine enjoyed unparalleled success.
But the Spanish club must find around £175m to be able to register recruited players or players already on the books who sign to new contract extensions, meaning the prospect of Barcelona making a sensational play for their former talisman is remote.
Saudi Arabia sees Messi as a star of the game, and believes that the prospect of him moving to the country is a ‘unique opportunity which is impossible to pass up’.
It is claimed that Riyadh has been preparing its strategy for months and has ‘left nothing to chance’, creating an irresistible proposition to lure Messi to the Kingdom.
Spanish outlet El Chiringuito reported Messi could be joined at Al-Hilal by his former Barcelona team-mate Sergio Busquets, who will accept a two-season deal, as well as defender Jordi Alba.
If Messi does decide to ply his trade in Saudi Arabia, he will come face to face yet again with career rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who made his own mega move to the Kingdom last year and now plays for Al-Nassr.
Messi released a video apologising for his unauthorised trip to Saudi Arabia last week
Messi could be about to join his long-standing rival Cristiano Ronaldo in the Saudi Pro League
Talk of a move to Saudi Arabia heightened last week after Messi took an unauthorised trip to the Kingdom as part of his £25m-a-year role as an ambassador for tourism.
The trip went down very badly with his current club PSG, who suspended him for two weeks.
PSG’s players had a scheduled day off on the Monday but following their 3-1 defeat to Lorient the previous day, manager Christophe Galtier ordered them in for extra training.
Messi, however, was already in transit to Saudi Arabia and wasn’t able to turn back.
The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner issued a grovelling apology via social media in which he said: ‘Hello. Well, I wanted to make this video after everything that’s going on.
‘First of all, I apologise again to my team-mates at the club. I honestly thought that we were going to have the day off after the game as we had done before.
‘I had organised this trip to Saudi Arabia, which I had previously cancelled and I couldn’t go. Once again, I apologise for what I did. So here I am, waiting to see what the club wants to do, nothing more. A hug.’
During the family’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia, Messi along with Antonela and his children were photographed enjoying attractions in the capital Riyadh and Diriyah.