Paris (AFP) – Paris Saint-Germain supporters have been gathering in anticipation of the arrival of Argentina superstar Lionel Messi after his emotional Barcelona departure at the weekend.
Members of the PSG faithful assembled outside the club’s Parc des Princes home and at an airport to the north of the French capital on Monday as the Qatari-owned outfit looked set to add the 34-year-old to a squad that already includes Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
Paris is expected to be Messi’s next destination after his tearful exit from the side he has represented throughout the 17 years of his glittering professional career.
However, on Monday journalists from AFP TV spotted him still at his home near Barcelona alongside his family as well as his friend and former teammate, Luis Suarez.
Later, French media reported that he had left for Ibiza to hold discussions with the Parisian club.
Following last week’s announcement by Barca that they could not afford to keep their all-time top goal-scorer, PSG emerged as the favourites to sign Messi, helped by the deep pockets of their Qatari owners.
They see him as the missing piece in their jigsaw as they chase the Champions League, the trophy they want more than anything else.
Off the field, his rumoured move has added 1.2m followers to PSG’s social media accounts since Friday.
“I am happy if he arrives at Paris,” new PSG goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma told Sky Sports Italia on Monday outside his Parisian hotel.
“He is the strongest in the world, I am excited and happy at the thought of having him in the team,” he added.
– Coming to terms –
Messi conceded at his tearful farewell news conference in Barcelona on Sunday that joining PSG was a “possibility”.
In reality, with Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City having ruled themselves out, they are about the only club who can afford what is expected to be a deal worth 35 million euros ($41 million) a year.
“I gave everything for Barcelona from the first day that I arrived right to the last. I never imagined having to say goodbye,” Messi said.
“I have still not come to terms with the reality of leaving this club now — I love this club.”
He leaves Barcelona with 672 goals in 778 appearances, a record tally for one club.
Messi won 35 trophies at the Camp Nou after joining Barca aged 13, but his last appearance was a damp squib: a 2-1 home defeat behind closed doors against Celta Vigo in May.
His trophy tally includes four Champions League and 10 La Liga titles.
“The greatest of all,” wrote Messi’s old Barcelona teammate Dani Alves — who won the Olympic gold with Brazil — in an Instagram message on Monday.
One group of Barcelona fans, represented by a Parisian lawyer, announced their intention to lodge a complaint with the European Commission in connection with the rules of financial fair play that Barcelona and PSG must follow.
– ‘Extraordinary for Ligue 1’ –
Despite offering to cut his salary by half to seal a new five-year contract which the club carrying debts of 1.2 billion euros ($1.41 billion) and the player had agreed on, the deal foundered on strict Spanish league salary cap rules.
Messi’s arrival would make PSG even more obvious favourites to reclaim a French title they missed out on last season to Lille.
Some in Ligue 1 have mixed feelings about the impending arrival of arguably the greatest player of all time.
“It’s extraordinary for Ligue 1,” said Metz coach Frederic Antonetti.
“But for a purist like me, Messi should have finished his career at Barcelona.”
This summer PSG have already added veteran Spanish defender Sergio Ramos from Real Madrid and Italy’s Donnarumma, the star of Euro 2020.
They have also signed Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, snatching the Dutchman from under the noses of Barcelona, and spent 60 million euros on Inter Milan right-back Achraf Hakimi, who scored on his league debut at the weekend.
An added attraction in moving to Paris is that coach Mauricio Pochettino, like Messi, started his career at Newell’s Old Boys in Rosario, Argentina.
All going to plan he could be unveiled to supporters on Saturday, when PSG play at home to Strasbourg and a full house of nearly 48,000 will be allowed in for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic struck 18 months ago.