After Tearful Departure, Cheers Greet Messi in Paris


PARIS — When Lionel Messi mentioned goodbye to Barcelona, his residence since childhood and the place he grew to grow to be one in all soccer’s biggest ever gamers, he was in tears.

Three days later, when he was formally launched on Wednesday by his new club, Paris St.-Germain, any tears in the gang had been expressions of pleasure.

And Messi, carrying his new jersey, traded the heavy feelings for a lightweight smile.

“I still want to play and I still want to win,” he mentioned at a information convention on Wednesday, sitting subsequent to P.S.G.’s president, Nasser al-Khelaifi. Leaving Barcelona was “a very hard moment,” he mentioned, however he added that he was “very happy” to be in Paris.

“I want to keep growing and keep winning titles.”

Messi’s signing with P.S.G. on Tuesday represented probably the most important — if unsurprising — transfer in latest soccer historical past, one which numerous followers, each in France and Spain, had been nonetheless struggling to fathom at the same time as Messi threaded the sphere of the Parc des Princes, P.S.G.’s stadium and his new residence.

The transfer will reinforce P.S.G.’s dominance over France’s home league, Ligue 1, which has struggled to draw consideration in latest years. And it’s going to make the membership the overwhelming favourite for the Champions League, the one trophy that issues to its Qatari backers and its president, and one which it has by no means gained.

“We haven’t won anything,” al-Khelaifi mentioned, ignoring the seven Ligue 1 titles the membership has claimed in the final 9 seasons. “This is just the start.”

Outside the stadium, followers chanted and threw smoke bombs as they waited to catch a glimpse of the Argentine star.

“It’s wonderful,” mentioned Alexandre Marienne, 32, carrying his 8-year-old son Kamil on his shoulders. “He’s going to help us build something incredible — Paris is definitely competing with the big names now.”

It was the end result of a surprising few days, in which Barcelona’s followers and gamers bid farewell in shock to the membership’s biggest participant, whereas in the French capital, P.S.G.’s followers held their breaths.

Before flying to Paris, Messi had repeated that he didn’t need to go away the membership that made him who he’s, that he had finished “everything to stay” in Barcelona. His devoted followers wished him to remain too. The membership wished him to remain. On Wednesday, Messi mentioned it could be bizarre to return again to his residence with a special jersey if he had been to play in opposition to his former membership.

But the monetary forces that drive the sport had been larger than both particular person or collective want. Barcelona could not afford Messi, even after he supplied to chop his wage in half.

So right here he was, in Paris, about to play in the French Ligue 1, the place monetary guidelines akin to those who tied Barcelona’s arms is not going to come into pressure for a number of extra years.

“The moment I arrived here, I felt very happy,” he mentioned on the information convention earlier than greeting the followers outdoors.

Seeing Messi with different colours than Barcelona’s, one thing unthinkable till final week, remained an oddity at the same time as he treaded the sphere of the Parc des Princes on Wednesday. He will don the quantity 30, which he had at Barcelona from 2004 to 2006. Neymar, the Brazilian who has been P.S.G.’s greatest worldwide identify till now, will preserve his quantity 10.

Rarely has an athlete in the trendy period been so related to a single workforce — Messi arrived moved to Barcelona when he was solely 13 — and P.S.G. is more likely to be his final membership in Europe.

But the legions of followers who greeted Messi in his new residence metropolis opened their arms in an embrace that, for the second, overshadowed the darker message his switch despatched concerning the sport that he has so dominated, and the nostalgia felt in Spain.

These followers had not come to debate the hazard posed by the immense advantage a small number of superrich clubs now have in shopping for and holding gamers.

They had merely come to see Messi.

Men and ladies, many with their kids by their facet, got here from throughout Paris and different French cities far and close to. Some weren’t from France in any respect. But on Wednesday, they had been all bonded by Messi.

Messi known as the ecstatic reception “crazy,” and mentioned he was excited to get again to the enterprise of enjoying soccer with a number of the greatest gamers in the world. With Neymar and Kylian Mbappé by Messi’s facet, P.S.G. can have Europe’s greatest assault, though it stays to be seen how Mauricio Pochettino, the membership’s supervisor, will make so many stars match collectively.

Messi’s transfer is casting a shadow on the way forward for Mbappé, the 22-year-old French celebrity who grew up close to Paris and whose contract with P.S.G. expires subsequent 12 months. But for Mr. Al-Khelaifi, there was just one star value speaking about on Wednesday. “Kylian is a Parisian player. He says he’s a competitor,” al-Khelaifi mentioned. “We can’t be more competitive than this team. He has no excuse to do something else.”

Since Qatar turned the principle stakeholder of Paris St.-Germain in 2012, supporters have watched the approaching of a gradual stream of the world’s costliest gamers, from Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Neymar, David Beckham to Mbappé, Gianluigi Buffon to Sergio Ramos. No membership has signed as many stars in the previous 10 years.

That has drawn criticism from numerous golf equipment, gamers and managers in France and overseas, who argue that the competitors is now unfair and biased towards state-sponsored groups like P.S.G. or Manchester City.

But none of these earlier offers, it appears, compares to Messi’s arrival, and numerous supporters may nonetheless not consider it.

“It’s just crazy stuff — we were not even dreaming of it,” mentioned Yohan Aymon, a 19-year-old P.S.G. fan and ahead for F.C. Sion, a Swiss membership, who drove from his native Switzerland in a single day.

“He made football magic, beautiful, and he’s a winner,” al-Khelaifi mentioned as he stood subsequent to Messi at a information convention on Wednesday. “There’s no secret he’s the best player in the world.”

Al-Khelaifi dismissed suspicions round monetary honest play and mentioned the membership had all the time revered the foundations. “We had the capacity to sign Messi for Financial Fair Play and we will always follow the rules,” he mentioned. “I hope Leo will not ask for a bigger salary.”

Messi will earn 35 million euros a season, or about $41 million.

“We are entering a new dimension,” mentioned Marienne, the 32-year-old fan, who mentioned he had moved his trip in southern France together with his household to see Messi. “P.S.G.’s possibilities seem unlimited now.”



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