Luka Modric, Hugo Lloris, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, N'Golo Kanté, Angel Di Maria and Roberto Firmino are among the targets mentioned to join the Saudi Pro League, according to the same source.

In total, Saudi authorities are "in contact with more than 10 players, many of whom have won the World Cup or Champions League, to join the Saudi league next season," she said.

"In addition to receiving fairly lucrative offers," they would play "in a very competitive league," the source argued, adding that the goal was to "close most of the deals" before the start of next season on Aug. 11.

A Saudi government official also told AFP that authorities were conducting negotiations with "world-class players". "The goal is to build a very strong and competitive league and raise the level of Saudi clubs," he said.

Regarding Messi and Benzema, Saudi officials are in Paris and Madrid to try to reach deals, according to several sources and press reports.

To date, the biggest coup achieved by Saudi Arabia is the recruitment of Cristiano Ronaldo by the club of Al Nassr at the end of December. The Portuguese is currently reportedly earning the highest salary in the history of the sport, around €200 million per season, according to unconfirmed reports.

An equivalent amount was quoted in the Spanish press for Benzema, in negotiations with Al-Ittihad.

In the case of Messi, seven-time Ballon d'Or winner approached by Al-Hilal, even higher sums are mentioned.

All the players targeted are big stars at the end of their careers. With the exception of Lloris, who has one year left on his contract with Tottenham, all are out of contract.

Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom's de facto ruler, is trying to improve its image linked to a rigorous Islam and attract tourists and investment, thanks in part to sport.

The world's largest oil exporter, which wants to diversify its economy, has spent hundreds of millions on sports contracts, for the signing of Ronaldo but also the organization of a Formula 1 Grand Prix or the launch of the dissident golf circuit LIV.

All these initiatives have led to Saudi Arabia being accused of wanting to "whitewash through sport" its human rights record.

© 2023 AFP