It’s been clear from the start that the pair’s relationship was built upon nothing other than a shared interest in making money
Lionel Messi has been suspended for a fortnight by Paris Saint-Germain. He will sit out two of their final five Ligue 1 fixtures. At least. Because who knows if Messi will play for PSG again? He certainly won’t feature next season, that’s for sure.
Any prospect of Messi extending his contract at the Parc des Princes is now over. His exit had, of course, become almost inevitable anyway.
As GOAL outlined after PSG’s almost-annual Champions League last-16 elimination, the club wanted to keep the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner for commercial reasons. However, Financial Fair Play (FFP) concerns meant that one of their ridiculously well-paid superstars was going to have to be offloaded this summer – and the smart money was always on Messi, given Kylian Mbappe remains the face of the PSG project, while nobody wants Neymar.
Indeed, given everything that has gone before, it is only right that Messi exits in acrimony, despised by his own club’s supporters, who consider him the personification of PSG’s problems.
It’s all a long way from the fanfare which greeted his chaotic arrival two years ago, when Messi was regarded as the final piece of the PSG puzzle after what was dubbed as ‘the greatest transfer window in football history’.
In truth, the club’s recruitment strategy in the summer of 2021 has proven a monumental letdown. Nuno Mendes and Danilo Pereira have done… okay. But Gigi Donnarumma has looked nothing like the star of Euro 2020, Sergio Ramos is a shadow of his former self, Gini Wijnaldum has already left for Roma (his loan move could soon be made permanent), while who knows where Achraf Hakimi will end up?…
Messi, though, has been the biggest disappointment simply because his arrival generated the most excitement.
He’s obviously delivered off the field. As PSG’s sponsorship director, Marc Armstrong, told GOAL in December 2021, “We have really felt an impact in all of our business areas: from sponsorship and merchandising to hospitality and ticketing.
“The club also gained 20 million new subscribers to their social media accounts in the week which followed his arrival. We had the highest engagement rate in the history of player announcements,” Armstrong enthused.
These impressive numbers explain why PSG were keen to keep Messi for another season. He remains integral to a brand built on high-profile players. You take away the star names and PSG fear becoming irrelevant on the global stage; the dominant force in a domestic league that makes relatively little money from the sale of overseas TV rights.
PSG’s objective has long been a first Champions League; Messi wanted a fifth. Which is one of the main reasons why this loveless marriage of convenience came into being.
Messi genuinely believed PSG offered him the best shot at winning another European Cup – of all of the clubs that were willing to meet his exorbitant wage demands, of course (it wasn’t a very long list…).
And let’s face it, this deal was really about money at the end of the day. That’s why Messi and PSG got together; and that’s why they’re breaking up.
This is a most modern affair. There has been no classic clash with the coach, no old-fashioned dressing-room dust-up, no late-night indiscretion. Messi just essentially cheated on Qatar with Saudi Arabia, and that was always going to provoke a public rebuke from PSG’s owners.
This is obviously a huge PR win for PSG – at least they’ll try to spin it as such. They’ve sent a message to their superstars, and more importantly their long-suffering supporters: Such insubordination will no longer be tolerated at Parc des Princes. Players will not be able to do as they please from here on.
A line has been drawn in the sand. A new era starts now. Will the fans buy it? Doubtful. They’re not idiots. They know that the club’s issues are deep-rooted and extend well beyond Messi. He may have symbolized their flawed philosophy, but he didn’t implement it.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that the supporters are still set to meet on Wednesday evening with a view to calling for a total overhaul at the club. “It’s time for things to change and for the Paris Saint-Germain institution to regain its soul, its Parisian spirit and its splendor,” read a statement released by the Collectif Ultras Paris. “The event must be peaceful, the goal is to move things forward in a structured and intelligent way.”
The hope is, of course, that the fans will rally around Christophe Galtier’s side, who saw their lead Ligue 1 lead cut to five points by Marseille over the weekend after an embarrassing home loss to Lorient. There is still a trophy to be won and Messi’s absence, coupled with the media frenzy his suspension has created, hardly boosts PSG’s title bid, as former winger Jerome Rothen pointed out on RMC Sport.
“This business comes a few days before a crucial match against Troyes, because they could still lose the title and a lot of other things,” he said. “They have already lost their Parisian fans but also the support of French and football enthusiasts in general, that’s the truth.
“I don’t question Messi’s fantastic career or his talent, but his coming to PSG has been a total fiasco. It’s incredible to see that he doesn’t even have the professional conscience to say to himself, ‘In terms of images, it may be inappropriate for me to go [to Saudi Arabia] because I was more than useless against Lorient.'”
As for Messi? What will he make of the ban and the backlash? Well, he probably doesn’t care. Because the feeling among the fans is that he never did. Only once has he ever gone to acknowledge them after a game, and even that was at Neymar’s behest. He was always the first player down the tunnel at full-time, whether he was being whistled or not.
Messi may have racked up goals and assists for the team, but he never appeared to have any interest in building a bond with the supporters, so there is no love lost between them. As one fan recently told GOAL’s Marc Mechenoua, “Messi was more of a marketing deal than a sporting signing. He ended up representing everything we hate about the QSI project for the past three or four years. He deserves a different, better end to his career.”
Barcelona potentially beckons, then. There are still plenty of financial issues to be resolved – but a romantic return to Camp Nou makes sense, after the worst rebound in football history.