Lionel Messi made his debut for Paris Saint-Germain at the Auguste-Delaune Stadium on Sunday, in front of 20,000 Reims fans chanting his name throughout the night. This will be a new era for the 34-year-old superstar since he moved to Paris after spending 17 years at Barcelona. Messi’s ardent fans will be hoping he will dominate the French football scene just like Cristiano Ronaldo did in Italy, although Messi will be focussing on once again winning the European crown.
We take a look at how Lionel Messi’s transfer to PSG came to be, and what the future beckons for one of the greatest players of all time:
MESSI AND BARCELONA
For roughly two decades, Camp Nou hosted some of the finest footballers of the current era – including the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Neymar and Messi. But that talented squad came at a cost, and pretty soon, financial mismanagement came back to haunt the club. Messi’s relationship with the club’s erstwhile president Josep Bartomeu was acrimonious, resulting in a stunning announcement by Messi that he will leave the club ahead of last season. A change in leadership did mend ties, but Joan Laporta could not salvage the club from its financial troubles.
The negotiations between Messi and Barcelona management went until the last minute – with the club even announcing that Messi will be re-signing with the club, only for the deal to fall apart just hours later. It is no doubt that Messi wanted to remain at the Catalan club, but new La Liga Financial Fairplay regulations meant that there was simply no chance of the legend continuing at Camp Nou. A tearful Messi then announced his departure in a press conference eight days before the start of the new season, marking the end of an era at Camp Nou.
WHY PSG WANTED MESSI
Since Qatar Sports Investments purchased PSG in 2011, the club has won 27 trophies at home – seven Ligue 1 titles, six Coupe de France, seven Coupe de la Ligue and eight Trophée des Champions. The absolute domination of domestic football was thanks to an incredible squad put together by the likes of Unai Emery, Thomas Tuchel and Mauricio Pochettino. The Parisians already have some of the biggest names in world football – Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Ramos and Angel Di Maria.
But despite a strong squad, passionate management and domestic domination, the Parisians have been unable to clinch the Champions League. It remains a stain on their otherwise pristine record, leading to a lack of recognition at a European level for the club. Winning the UEFA Champions League has become the ultimate goal for clubs across Europe’s leagues, with fans not being satisfied with domestic achievements alone. PSG’s only stint in the finals of the Champions League came in 2020 when they lost 1-0 to Bayern Munich.
WHERE MESSI WOULD FIT IN PSG
Mauricio Pochettino sent a clear signal to clubs across the major leagues with the hiring of Messi – his sights are clearly on the European crown. While PSG will use Messi to reclaim the Ligue 1 crown they lost to Lille, he will be primarily used in Champions League fixtures. Messi won most of the 35 trophies he picked up in 17 years at Barcelona playing on the right side, with the Argentinian being known for his skills with the left foot.
There are two scenarios that can play out – with the imminent departure of Kylian Mbappe, Messi can team up with Neymar and Di Maria up front in a 4-3-3 formation to form a formidable attacking lineup. Alternatively, Pochettino can rotate between Messi and Neymar, keeping both the experienced players injury-free and rested to play high-intensity football. Mauricio Pochettino famously likes a high-pressing style of football, but Messi likes to play with tact rather than intensity, and how the two will synergise their styles needs to be seen.
More than four weeks after the six-time Ballon d’Or winner joined PSG, he finally got to make his debut, although away from home. Kylian Mbappe, whose future at the club is cloudy, has put the Parisians in the lead by scoring twice. Neymar, who had a bit of an off-day, was substituted, bringing Messi into the field to wide applause from the crowd. But there was no major opportunity for the Argentine to score goals for his side as PSG were relatively subdued for the rest of the game.
The debut also gave an opportunity for fans to take a look at the role Messi will be playing at PSG – as a No. 10 firmly supporting the centre-forward. Mauricio Pochettino, speaking after the fixture, was impressed with Messi’s debut. With an international break coming up, it will give enough time for Messi to come out of the Barcelona shadow and make his mark at PSG in the upcoming months.