When 150,000 Lionel Messi jerseys went on sale on Paris St-Germain’s website on the day his signing was announced, they were gone in seven minutes.
PSG have been here before, when Neymar signed about four years earlier, but it’s fair to say that even they were surprised by the excitement that greeted the arrival of Argentine superstar Messi.
For the man himself, however, it is a completely new experience. He joined Barcelona as a boy, aged 13. Now 34, he and his young family are adjusting to a new life in a city he last visited in December 2019, when he called to retrieve his record-breaking sixth Balloon. Gold.
As soon as he arrived in France in August, everyone at PSG made a big effort to make him feel welcome. A group reunion was held at Ander Herrera’s home, where the player was hosting a barbecue to celebrate his birthday, and Messi felt supported in the locker room from the day he arrived.
Even former Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos, with whom Messi has clashed numerous times in Spain, was quick to welcome him, and before signing he had already discussed the possibility of signing with Angel di Maria, Neymar and Leandro Paredes.
Neymar even went so far as to gift him his number 10 shirt, which Messi declined, opting instead for the number 30 he wore as a teenager when he made his senior debut for Barca.
He was also pleasantly surprised by the warmth of the welcome he received from Kylian Mbappe – who also speaks perfect Spanish – as well as that of the carefree team joker Marco Verratti.
The good rapport Messi has always had with PSG boss and compatriot Mauricio Pochettino was another reason why the move was appealing. They understand each other, speak the same language literally and figuratively, and spoke on the phone just after the announcement of Messi’s departure from Barcelona. It’s a relationship that goes back some time.
On his first day of training at PSG, Messi was shown gym equipment by Sebastiano Pochettino, the manager’s son. Messi looked puzzled, first because it amused him that the little kid he had last seen running around a Barcelona apartment when he was young was now the guy who suggested a ‘coaching. Second, he didn’t know what to do with the equipment. Yes, he had seen them in Barcelona, but he had never been asked to use them.
It’s another example of change for Messi, but on the pitch things were more familiar. From his first match, a 2-0 victory in Reims on August 29, PSG have played like a team built around themselves. On offense, they look for his runs diagonally from the right wing first, working together with small passes before that last injection of pace up front.
And Neymar was more than happy to convert back into a winger, playing on the left like he did with Messi at Barcelona, instead of being at the center of everything, as he had been so far at PSG. .
Versus Manchester City in the Champions League last week, however, it was different. PSG quickly realized they weren’t going to dominate possession, so they backed off and looked to counterattack. They’ve done it with great success, but playing this way you’ll always get less out of Messi.
They will expect to be the team controlling possession in most games. But that can present another problem: such a style benefits Messi and Neymar more than Mbappe, as the Frenchman needs space to run. It’s a dynamic that can be difficult to balance for Pochettino.
All three forwards also have to work harder defensively. There were examples in the early games of the team showing a tendency to split into two, with the three stars up front losing contact with the rest of the squad.
They certainly took off on the weekend, 2-0 defeat in Rennes for a first defeat in the league of the season – and without a shot on target. Before that, they had won their eight Ligue 1 games as they looked to regain the title Lille won last season.
A few weeks earlier, we were doing a lot of Messi’s replacement on home debut, 2-1 win over Lyon September 20. But the stories that he would be “stunned” and “stunned” to be replaced are far from the reality.
While it is certainly true that Messi wants to play every minute of every game, Pochettino made the decision to pull him out as he knew he had felt knee discomfort. The manager suspected something was wrong, and his instincts proved correct as Messi missed training for the next two days.
There has never been any question about Messi’s commitment to the team. And if there was any proof of that, it was when, after scoring a superb 74th minute goal to seal the 2-0 victory over Manchester City, he took on the role of “draft distributor” in a defensive wall. When Captain Marquinhos asked him to do so (the position is normally taken by Verratti who had then been replaced), he did not hesitate.
Here’s another example of the outside world jumping to misinterpret Messi’s mood. While the former top players chose to take offense on his behalf and bragging about a humiliation for the great player, Messi himself saw it as nothing more than something he had to do for the good of the team.
Aside from that defeat at Rennes, Messi’s only starting issues so far have come off the pitch.
The Argentine was less than impressed that details of his contract and salary were revealed on the cover of French newspaper L’Equipe. In Spain it took years for his salary to be disclosed, in France it took less than two months – although the report is inaccurate.
Added to this is an irritating soap opera that develops around the search by the Messi family for a property in Paris. The local press often ran interviews with real estate agents and real estate experts who pontificated about the type of house they were looking to buy.
In Spain it was all about football and although it is still known where he lived, his family’s privacy was respected.
In France, it seems to become another story and he is not happy with the intrusion, not least because it represents a potential security threat.
Living with his family in a hotel – admittedly extremely luxurious and spacious – is far from ideal, although it must be said that Pochettino always does the same.
The main goal of the family is to settle down as soon as possible, although this is easier said than done as there are not many properties in Paris that can offer the garden and living in expansive outdoors which they enjoyed in their Castelldefels home on the outskirts of Barcelona.
At the moment, they occasionally walk in the parks near their hotel, always accompanied by security. But the search for a home is almost over, and Messi’s wife Antonela is trying to put everything in place.
It is impossible to overstate her role, not only as a partner and mother to their children, but also as a best friend, confidante and, in a situation like this, a fundamental part of making everything go smoothly. possible.
Messi first met Antonela Roccuzzo, a compatriot from Rosario, when he was only five years old. She is the cousin of her childhood best friend Lucas Scaglia, who is also a footballer.
The couple, together since 2008, are inseparable. Messi was quick to say that the most difficult thing in deciding to come to Paris was to first inform his wife and then his children of the move.
But in Antonela he has his rock, the pillar of strength that keeps the family strong and stable. The idea that he would never have considered the move without the full support of his soul mate and his adoring children is unthinkable.
Perhaps aware of the idea that “the fruit never falls far from the tree”, the two eldest Messi train twice a week with the young people of PSG, and Antonella takes care of it. She also takes the kids to school and spends time with some of her personal projects: sponsorships, partnerships and endorsements for herself, as well as being active on social media.
When the family gaze out of their hotel window, there’s a good chance they can see some of the many supporters who still congregate there, though the initial wave of euphoria has at least subsided as fences put in place to keep the hordes at bay have now been removed.
But “Messimania” shows no sign of slowing down in Paris more broadly. When I walked into the club shop with the intention of buying a home or away PSG Messi shirt on match day against Manchester City, they were fully booked.
His goal in this game – and the promise of many more to come – means we should be ready for one hell of a ride.