Thanks for the memories: Fans outside the Camp Nou in Barcelona
Lionel Messi is expected to arrive in the French capital on Monday, lured by the limitless funds of Paris Saint-Germain, having said a tearful farewell to Barcelona after 21 years.
The 34-year-old, seen by the French giants’ Qatari owners as the vital missing piece of their frustrating Champions League puzzle, has already had fans playing a guessing game.
On Sunday night, dozens of PSG diehards gathered at the gates of Le Bourget airport to the north of the capital in the hope of catching a glimpse of their newest ‘galactico’.
Their wait was in vain although French media maintained that it was a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ Messi arrives.
“The news is expected Monday, even Tuesday. This is the most likely scenario,” said Le Parisien on Monday morning.
“It only seems to be a matter of hours,” suggested sports daily L’Equipe, which proclaimed “we are entering the most incredible days in the history of the French championship.”
Before signing the contract in Paris, Messi will first have to undergo a medical examination.
Stressing no deals had been done, Messi conceded at his tearful farewell news conference in Barcelona on Sunday that joining PSG was a “possibility”.
In reality, they are the only club who can afford what is expected to be a deal worth 35 million euros ($41m) a year for the 34-year-old Argentine.
“I gave everything for Barcelona from the first day that I arrived right to the last. I never imagined having to say goodbye,” a tearful Messi told the news conference.
“I have still not come to terms with the reality of leaving this club now — I love this club.”
On Monday morning, the images of the Argentinian in tears leapt out from the pages of all the Spanish sports dailies such as Marca, AS and Sport.
One note of discord came from a group of Barcelona fans, represented by Parisian lawyer Juan Branco, who announced Monday 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.
The group also intends to ask the French courts to suspend a possible transfer.
Messi, widely considered the most gifted player in the history of the game, won 35 trophies at Barcelona after joining as a 13-year-old — including four Champions Leagues and 10 league titles while his 672 goals are a record tally for one club.
Despite offering to cut his salary by half to seal a new five-year deal which a club carrying debts of 1.2 billion euros and the player had agreed on, the agreement foundered on strict Spanish league salary restrictions.
Some in France’s Ligue 1 have mixed feelings about the impending arrival of Messi who will form a superstar attacking force alongside Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, who earns a reported 36 million euros a year and is a former Barcelona teammate of the Argentine.
“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, where he won four Champions League crowns, and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Messi is a free agent. Ramos also arrived on a free transfer.
A move to the Parc des Princes would mean a reunion with his Argentina international colleague Angel di Maria.
An added attraction is that coach Mauricio Pochettino, like Messi, started his career at Newell’s Old Boys in Rosario, Argentina.
Pochettino has been giving nothing away on the arrival of Messi.
“There have been lots of rumours. Lots of things are being said,” he said as PSG laboured to a 2-1 win over Troyes in their opening game of the new league season.
Jorge Sampaoli, the Argentine coach of PSG’s bitter rivals Marseille, said the arrival of Messi can only be good news for French football.
“It would be great for Ligue 1, he’s the best player in the world,” said Sampaoli.
“French football has won a lot and grown a lot in recent seasons.