Lionel Messi plans third Saudi visit in tourism ambassador role

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Saudi Arabia's minister of tourism has announced Lionel Messi will visit the kingdom later this month -- his third stay in less than a year -- amid interest from the Saudi Pro League in his signing.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward, who added to his glittering career by lifting last year's World Cup in Qatar, will visit in March, the country's minister of tourism Ahmed Al-Khatib said.

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"I am happy to welcome our Tourism Ambassador ... and his family and friends this month ... to enjoy our most beautiful tourism destinations, connect with our people and enjoy unique experiences!" Al-Khatib said on Twitter.

The news came hours before PSG's exit from the Champions League at the hands of Bayern Munich on Wednesday.

The oil-rich nation appointed Messi its tourism ambassador last year, and he visited Jeddah in May, before returning in January to play a friendly match with PSG against a team of Saudi League stars, facing off against longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo's deal with Al Nassr sealed last year -- worth a world-record $75 million per year -- led to Saudi hopes of a renewed rivalry with Messi in the Saudi League after reported interest from Al Hilal and Al Ittihad in signing the world champion.

Al Ittihad fans chanted Messi's name in a local match on Friday, and club president Anmar Al-Haeli referred to a Messi deal in a video last week, saying "God willing. The deal needs time and arrangement."

Meanwhile, Ramon Diaz, coach of Al Hilal, told reporters last month: "The presence of Ronaldo makes us believe that Messi may come to Saudi Arabia as well. Saudi football is growing significantly and seems capable of attracting the biggest players."