October 25, 2021

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Lionel Messi: the story of the Paris St-Germain striker’s first months in France

Lionel Messi celebrates his goal against Manchester City, his first with PSG
Messi’s first goal for PSG was an extraordinary ending that is reminiscent of his best

When 150,000 Lionel Messi shirts went on sale on the Paris St-Germain website the day his purchase was announced, they disappeared within seven minutes.

PSG have been here before, when Neymar signed around four years earlier, but it’s fair to say that they too 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 at the age of 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 collect his sixth record Ballon d’Or.

From the moment he landed in France in August, everyone at PSG has put a lot of effort into making him feel welcome. A group match was organized at Ander Herrera’s home, where the player was hosting a barbecue to celebrate his birthday, and Messi felt backed up in the locker room from the day he arrived.

Former Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos, with whom Messi has clashed on numerous occasions in Spain, was also 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 as far as offering him his number 10 jersey, which Messi turned down, opting instead for the number 30 he wore as a teenager when he made his senior debut with Barca.

He was also pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome given to him by Kylian Mbappe – who also speaks perfect Spanish – and by that of the joker of the carefree team Marco Verratti.

The good relationship Messi has always had with PSG boss and compatriot Mauricio Pochettino was another reason why the move was attractive. They understand each other, they speak the same language both literally and figuratively and they talk to each other on the phone right after it was announced that Messi would be leaving Barcelona. Theirs is a relationship that dates back somehow.

On his first day of PSG training, Messi was shown some gym equipment by Sebastiano Pochettino, the manager’s son. Messi seemed perplexed, primarily because he was amused by the fact that the kid he last saw running around in a Barcelona apartment as a kid was now the guy who suggested a training regimen. Second, he wasn’t sure what to do with the equipment. Yes, he had seen them at Barcelona, ​​but he had never been asked to use them.

This is another example of change for Messi, but off the pitch things were more familiar. From his first game, a 2-0 win in Reims on 29 August, PSG played as a team built around him. In attack they first look for his diagonals from the right wing, collaborating with small passes before the last injection of rhythm in attack.

And Neymar was more than happy to turn himself into a winger again, playing on the left as he did with Messi at Barcelona, ​​instead of being in the center of it all, as he had been at PSG so far.

Against Manchester City in the Champions League last week, however, it was different. PSG quickly realized that they were not going to dominate possession, so they retired and tried to fight back. They did this to great effect, but playing this way will get you less and less from Messi.

They will expect to be the team that controls ball possession in most games. But this could present another problem: such a style benefits Messi and Neymar more than Mbappé, because the Frenchman needs space to run. It’s a dynamic that can be difficult for Pochettino to balance.

All three forwards also have to work harder on the defensive. There have been examples in the team’s early matches that have shown a tendency to split in two, with the three stars in attack losing contact with the rest of the team.

Sure they unglued over the weekend, losing 2-0 to Rennes for the first league defeat of the season – and failing to shoot on goal. They had previously won all eight Ligue 1 games as they try to regain the title won by Lille last season.

A few weeks earlier, a lot was made of Messi’s change at home debut, 2-1 victory over Lyon on September 20. But the stories of him being “stunned” and “bewildered” at being replaced are far from the mark.

While it’s certainly true that Messi wants to play every minute of every game, Pochettino made the decision to take it off because he knew he felt a discomfort in his knee. The manager suspected something was wrong and his instincts turned out to be correct as Messi skipped the next workout over the next two days.

There has never been a question about Messi’s commitment to the team. And if proof was needed, it came when, after scoring a stunning 74th-minute goal to seal the 2-0 victory over Manchester City, he took on the role of “draftsman” in a defensive wall. When captain Marquinhos asked him to do it (the position is normally occupied by Verratti who had been replaced at the time) he didn’t think twice.

Here’s another example of the outside world jumping to misinterpret Messi’s mood. While the former top players have chosen to take offense on his behalf and gossiping 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.

Lionel Messi in the position of 'exclude drafts'
Messi arrived at PSG on a two-year contract, with an option for a third year

Aside from that defeat at Rennes, Messi’s only teething problems so far have come off the pitch.

The Argentine was little impressed that details of his contract and salary were revealed on the cover of the French newspaper L’Equipe. In Spain it took years for his salary to be leaked, in France it took less than two months, although the report is said to be inaccurate.

Added to this is an irritating soap opera that revolves around the Messi family’s search for property in Paris. The local press has often published interviews with real estate agents and real estate experts who pontificate about the type of home they are looking to buy.

In Spain it was always about football and while you always knew where he lived, his family’s privacy was respected.

In France, it seems to be becoming a different story and he is not happy with the intrusion, not least because it represents a potential security threat.

Lionel Messi and family pose for a photo on the Parc des Princes field
Messi and his wife Antonela have been together since 2008

Living with his family in a hotel – albeit extremely luxurious and spacious – is far from ideal, although it must be said that Pochettino does the same.

The family’s main goal is to settle down as soon as possible, although that’s easier said than done as there aren’t many properties in Paris that can offer the garden and expansive outdoor living they enjoyed in their house in Castelldefels, on the outskirts of Barcelona.

At the moment they occasionally take walks in the parks near their hotel, always accompanied by security. But the search for a house is almost over, and Messi’s wife Antonela is trying to fix everything.

It is impossible to overestimate her role, not only as a companion and mother of the children, but also as a best friend, confidant and, in a situation like this, a fundamental component to ensure that everything works in the best way.

Messi first met Antonela Roccuzzo, a fellow citizen of Rosario, when she was just 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 hardest thing in making the decision to come to Paris was first telling his wife and then his children about the move.

But in Antonela she has her rock, the pillar of strength that keeps the family strong and stable. The idea that he would never have contemplated moving without the full support of his soul mate and the children he adores is unthinkable.

Perhaps aware of the idea that “the fruit never falls far from the tree”, Messi’s two eldest children train twice a week with the PSG youth teams, and Antonella took care of it. She also accompanies children to and from school and spends time with some of her personal projects: sponsorships, partnerships and sponsorships for herself, as well as being active on social media.

When the family looks out the hotel window, they are likely to see some of the many supporters still gathering there, even if the initial wave of euphoria has at least subsided to the point that the fences put in place to keep the the hordes at bay have been removed.

But “Messimania” shows no signs of abating in Paris in the broad sense. When I walked into the club shop with the intention of buying a PSG Messi jersey at home or away on the day of the match against Manchester City, they were sold out.

His goal in that match – and the promise of many others to come – means we should have a good lap.


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