Lionel Messi sets sights on Champions League glory as 'Messimania' grips Paris

Argentine superstar presented as a Paris Saint-Germain player on Wednesday when he addressed the media and greeted thousands of fans outside the Parc des Princes

A new fashion accessory was launched in Paris on Wednesday. It is a jersey with No 30 on the back and the most celebrated surname in football, Messi, above it in capitals, though with a quirky dot on the top of the I at the end.

Sales of replica Paris Saint-Germain No 30 jerseys were already reported as brisk in the hours after Lionel Messi, six-time Ballon D’Or winner, was unveiled as a new PSG player on Wednesday at the Parc des Princes. The signing ceremony was not as grand as when Neymar joined PSG in 2017, when the Eiffel Tower was hired as the backdrop or when Zlatan Ibrahimovic became PSG’s chief icon in 2012. But the effect of Messi’s arrival in raising the profile and pushing the French club’s ambitions is far greater.

The marketing of Messi will also, according to the club’s president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, keep the ever vaster spending of PSG within the boundaries of European football’s governing body, Uefa’s Financial Fair Play rules.

“We always respect the rules,” said Al-Khelaifi. “We have done this [the signing of Messi] because we are allowed to, and our financial experts and lawyers have studied it. It is an excellent investment for the club. He [Messi] makes an incredible impact from a commercial point of view.

“I just hope he doesn’t ask for a pay rise,” joked Al-Khelaifi, smiling at Messi, who was seated beside him.

Messi has joined PSG for no transfer fee, after the club he has spent 20 years at, Barcelona, told him they could not afford to renew a contract that expired in June. But he has signed a deal worth around €35 million ($35.2m) a year after tax.

It also includes a significant bonus should PSG win their first European Cup in either of the two years of 34-year-old Messi’s contract. “My dream is to lift the Champions League again,” said Messi, who won four Champions League titles in his time with Barcelona.

He will line up in a PSG attack that already includes Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, in whom the Qatar-owned club invested over €400m. “It’s crazy,” said Messi of the potential of the PSG strikeforce. “This was already a very complete team and they have added great signings this summer.”

Gianluigi Donnarumma, the Italy goalkeeper, Sergio Ramos, the former Real Madrid defender, and Georginio Wijnaldum, the ex-Liverpool midfielder, have all joined in the current transfer window. “I hope I can add my little bit,” said Messi, with exaggerated modesty.

He has not disguised his disappointment at leaving Barcelona, where he first enrolled at the age of 13, and where he set towering records, scoring more than 670 goals for the club and winning 35 trophies. But he was “excited”, he told reporters, about his new challenge. PSG acted fast when Barcelona, with whom Messi thought had agreed a deal with a substantial salary cut, unexpectedly announced a week ago they could not re-sign their icon without breaking the Spanish Liga’s salary cap.

Messi’s friendships with Neymar and PSG head coach Mauricio Pochettino had accelerated the move. “I was in touch with various people in the dressing room - ‘Ney’ [Neymar], Angel Di Maria and Leandro Paredes [who Messi captains in the Argentina national team]. I know Pochettino and there’s a natural relationship because we’re both Argentinians. Everything has gone very smoothly with him.”

Pochettino spoke with Messi within hours of the talks with Barcelona breaking down. Within five days the PSG deal had been sealed.

His debut in that No 30 jersey is eagerly awaited, although Saturday’s Ligue 1 match against Strasbourg looks too soon for Messi to be in the starting XI. He was on holiday until a week ago, after winning the Copa America with Argentina in July. “I’ve been having to do my own pre-season,” he said, “but I want to get going as soon as possible.”

He has joined a far less prestigious league than Spain’s, but still one competitive enough that PSG, whose budget dwarves that of all other French clubs, only finished runners-up to Lille last season. “The French championship has developed a lot recently,” Messi said, “and I do know that all clubs really want to beat PSG.”

Al-Khelaifi said he had received congratulations from other French club presidents for bringing the greatest footballer of the era to Paris: “We have done this not just for our club but for France and Ligue 1. Other presidents have thanked me. Our championship has gone up a level, and there will be benefits in terms of broadcast rights and commercial revenues.”

Updated: August 11th 2021, 12:38 PM
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