Lionel Messi’s mixed start to life in the French capital continued when he drew a blank in PSG’s stalemate against Marseille on Sunday night. The former Barcelona captain has now failed to find the back of the net in all four of his Ligue 1 appearances so far this season.
However, Messi has saved his biggest performances for the Champions League, banging in three goals in three games to send his new team top of their group. He has already become a hero to many PSG fans, but can he take the Parisians to the next level this season?
A Sad Farewell
Messi wept openly in a farewell press conference after announcing his departure from Barcelona in the summer. His disbelief at the situation was palpable.
Messi joined the club’s youth academy all the way back in 2000 and broke all manner of records during his time in Catalonia. He won 37 trophies in total – including 10 La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues, and seven Copa del Rey victories –and won the Balon d’Or on a record-breaking six occasions.
The diminutive Argentinian scored 627 goals in total for the Blaugrana, and he was widely hailed as the greatest player of all time. The concept of him leaving Barca seemed ludicrous.
That all changed in 2020 after president Josep Maria Bartomeu ran the club into financial peril, while results on the pitch went downhill. Messi tried to engineer a move elsewhere, but Bartomeu forced him to stay
“Last year I wanted to leave,” said Messi in his emotional press conference. “This year I wanted to stay. That’s why I’m sad.”
Joan Laporta had returned to the club to replace Bartomeu, and Messi wanted to help turn things around, but La Liga’s strict financial controls and Barca’s inability to shift deadwood ensured that the club could not retain his services.
A Logical Decision
Messi needed a new club, and PSG was an obvious choice. It reunited him with former teammate and close friend Neymar. The prospect of an attacking triumvirate featuring Messi, Neymar and the supremely talented Kylian Mbappé had fans around the world salivating.
PSG were one of the only clubs that could afford his wages and match his ambition of seizing another Champions League title.
Messi has not won the competition since 2015, when he played alongside Neymar and Luis Suárez in attack for Barcelona, but this star-studded PSG team gives him an opportunity to do that. In some ways, it is reminiscent of Tom Brady leaving the New England Patriots to win another Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that could provide him with the sort of supporting cast he needed.
Champions League or Bust for PSG
Messi’s slow start to life in Ligue 1 is relatively inconsequential. PSG are still seven points clear of their closest rivals, Lens, at the top of the table. Lille, the team that beat them to the title last term, are languishing in 10th place after winning just four of 11 games so far this season.
PSG are the overwhelming favourites in the fixed odds betting to win the domestic title this season. Messi, Neymar, Mbappé and manager Mauricio Pochettino will not be judged on their exploits against the likes of Marseille, Angers and Rennes.
This is a club that is desperate for Champions League glory. It is the one prize that has continued to elude the natural gas-rich Qatari owners since they purchased PSG 2011.
They made Neymar and Mbappé the two most expensive players in history to bring them to Paris, but they continued to fall short in their bid for continental domination. PSG came closest in 2020, when they lost to Bayern Munich in the Champions League final. They were taken apart by Man City in the semi-finals last season, so it was clear that drastic action was needed.
Can Messi Deliver European Glory?
The club embarked upon a lavish recruitment drive in the summer, bringing in Messi, Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi and Georginio Wijnaldum. The message was clear: PSG was trying to build a team capable of conquering Europe immediately.
They even refused to sanction the sale of wantaway forward Mbappé to Real Madrid, preferring to decline a bid worth €200 million from Real Madrid and allow him to leave on a free transfer instead next season.
PSG clearly believe that a front three of Messi, Mbappé and Neymar can lead them to glory this season, and they are prepared to sacrifice their long-term prospects for short-term gain.
They made a poor start to proceedings in drawing 1-1 away at Club Brugge in their opening group stage game. Messi was largely anonymous in that game, but in mitigation he was still recovering from an injury.
He then exploded into life in a symbolic 2-0 win against Man City, firing in a screamer to put Pep Guardiola’s men to the sword. Messi then scored twice to hand his team a 3-2 win against RB Leipzig last time out. He also further endeared himself to fans by giving up his chance of a hat-trick and handing Mbappé the ball for a late penalty.
It was always going to take time for Messi to acclimatise to his new surroundings, and indeed for Pochettino to turn his cohort of superstars into an effective unit, but PSG are starting to find their feet in the Champions League. They look all but certain to reach the knockout stages of the tournament, and nobody will want to face Messi and co.
The jury is still out as to whether it was the right move for Messi, but if he continues to save his best performances for the Champions League, it will be hard for any team in Europe to stop the PSG juggernaut.