Arguably the world’s greatest ever footballer, Lionel Messi, joined Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) only days after it was announced that he would not be returning to FC Barcelona. While he signed as a free agent (his Barcelona contract ended by July 1st), his high wages and lucrative income that he brings to PSG and the French Ligue 1 will have a similarly positive impact that Cristiano Ronaldo had with Juventus and Serie A in 2018.
While Messi’s move to Paris is the most notable of a turbulent transfer window, it will have a long-term effect on football as a whole. His old club, FC Barcelona - where he enjoyed a 21-year stay since the age of 13 – are now descending away from domestic and European power in one of the most difficult times in their history. PSG, on the other hand, are primed for a period of continued domestic dominance and challenge to finally win the Champions League. What does Lionel Messi’s signing mean for PSG, Barcelona and European football? How did Messi bring himself to leave the club he hoped to finish his career with?
After Messi became a free agent, rumours began swirling that he could sign for another club. This was not a surprise though, considering the frustrations Messi has had brewing with Barcelona since his tax case and poor performances in recent years leading to him openly expressing his desire to leave. However, after positive meetings with club president Joan Laporta, there was a verbal agreement for a new five-year contract on half of his previous wages. Yet, this fell through because La Liga, the Spanish premier division, did not authorise the agreement because Barcelona were still over the Financial Fair Play (FFP) placed on La Liga teams. Years of poor management off the pitch has culminated into debts amounting to nearly one billion euros because of high inflated wages, high transfer fees and the inability to sell players. Balancing the books has and still is proving difficult, with the club needing to reduce their wage bill by around 200m euros. Arguments were made that if Messi really wanted to stay, he could play for free, but this is illegal under La Liga rules, which do not allow a new contract to be more than 50% less than the previous one. So, while Barcelona tried to blame La Liga for blocking Messi’s new contract, they should only look to themselves for the loss of their star man.
"French football will benefit financially from Messi’s presence, even if critics point to the fact that PSG are set to continue winning a largely uncompetitive domestic league".
Contrast that with Paris Saint-Germain, who add the Argentine to an already star-studded line up that includes close friend and ex-Barca teammate Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, and a host of Argentines like Angel Di Maria and Leandro Paredes. All it took was one phone call from Messi to fellow countryman, head coach Mauricio Pochettino, to persuade Messi to join, and from there negotiations went quickly. Pochettino alerted the PSG boardroom and President Nasser Al-Khelaifi, and a deal was struck with Jorge Messi, Lionel’s father. Marc Armstrong, PSG Head of Sponsorships and former NBA Vice-President of Marketing and Commercial Director of the NFL, has calculated that Messi’s arrival will have a substantial impact on income and popularity for not only PSG but Ligue 1 too.
This has already been evident with PSG’s social media account followings increasing rapidly, while shirt sales with ‘Messi 30’ sold out within a day of him signing. Furthermore, Messi made his eagerly anticipated debut on the 29th August away at Reims. Despite only featuring for around 25 minutes, his substitution yielded applause from both home and away fans in a sold-out 21,000 capacity stadium; Reims had only sold around 6,000 tickets before Messi’s signing. The match, which PSG won 2-0, with Mbappe scoring both goals, broke the record for the most watched Ligue 1 match ever with a reported 10.5 million viewers, while in Spain it was the most watched French game ever.
So, while PSG and Barcelona are seemingly heading in opposite directions, French football will benefit financially from Messi’s presence, even if critics point to the fact that PSG are set to continue winning a largely uncompetitive domestic league (besides last year). Ligue 1’s profile will increase, and having recently fallen to 6th in the UEFA League Coefficient, overtaken by the Portuguese Liga Nos, the burden will fall on Paris Saint-Germain to win the Champions League to help restore pride in the league. For PSG, years of criticism of their state-owned backing have receded since the Super League debacle, and now having Lionel Messi on board helps the image of PSG and Qatar in the build up to the 2022 World Cup.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica Limited as a company.