By Antony Paone
LE BOURGET, France (Reuters) – Six-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi received a hero’s welcome after flying to France yesterday to join Paris Saint Germain (PSG) following his shock departure from Barcelona.
The agreement to sign the 34-year-old Argentine is a major coup for wealthy PSG, who will add one of the best soccer players of all-time to an already formidable front line that includes Brazil’s Neymar and young Frenchman Kylian Mbappe.
Wearing a T-shirt that read ‘This is Paris’, Messi beamed and waved at scores of fans who had come to greet him at Le Bourget Airport on the outskirts of the French capital after his flight from Barcelona.
Chanting “Messi, Messi, Messi,” the fans cheered and let off firecrackers.
“It’s going to be mad. After all, it’s a legend who is arriving,” said Florent Chauveau, a PSG fan who has been back and forth to the airport every day since Sunday in the hope of seeing Messi arrive.
Messi gave no details of the deal, which was reached days after Barcelona said it could not afford to keep the midfielder because of Spain’s La Liga’s fair play rules.
But his father, speaking to reporters at Barcelona’s airport, confirmed reports by French newspaper L’Equipe and Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo that Messi had reached an agreement with PSG, which is owned by Qatar Sports Investment.
L’Equipe said the deal would be for two years. It also said Messi would have had medical tests yesterday, and that a news conference to mark his arrival was likely today.
PSG did not comment on the reports but released a short video showing scenes of Paris, a plane landing and a close-up of someone putting pen to paper. In the background, upbeat music can heard, and the words “new diamond in Paris” and “mercato update” appear.
The video, seen on Twitter, does not show Messi but depicts an image of six Ballon d’Or – an annual award given to the player deemed the best in the world – by the Eiffel Tower.
Many Barcelona fans were distraught at the end of Messi’s glittering, trophy-laden career at the club he joined as a schoolboy.
But the arrival of Barcelona’s all-time record scorer with 682 goals will boost PSG’s ambitions to win the Champions League for the first time. Messi won four Champions League titles while at Barcelona, as well as 10 La Liga titles.
Messi is the latest big-name arrival at PSG on a free transfer this summer after coach Mauricio Pochettino’s side snapped up Spanish defender Sergio Ramos after he left Real Madrid. Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum also joined after running down his contract with Liverpool.
Italy’s Euro 2020-winning goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma has also joined after his contract with AC Milan ran out, while Moroccan fullback Achraf Hakimi joined from Inter Milan for a reported 60 million euros ($70 million).
The arrival of Messi, whose last contract with Barcelona was worth a total of 555 million euros and reported to be the most lucrative in world sport, is also set to provoke a renewed new debate about UEFA’s financial fair play rules.
The rules were first introduced in 2009 to restrict some of the worst excesses of the game but have been criticised by some leading figures for being ineffective.
The arrival of Messi, who has 245 million followers on Instagram and is Barcelona’s most decorated player of all-time, is also welcome news for France’s Ligue 1, embroiled in a crisis over TV rights.