On Thursday, Paris Saint-Germain manager Christophe Galtier announced what the world already knew: Lionel Messi will not play for the Ligue 1 champions next season.
Galtier's statement was unsurprisingly short for a player that had been an immense distraction for some months. He acknowledged that Messi is the greatest player of all time, and called on irritated PSG fans to give him a "warm welcome" at Parc des Princes on Saturday — something they will undoubtedly struggle to do.
And that was it. The player, signed to massive fanfare two years ago, five months removed from lifting the World Cup and still the favourite to win the Ballon d'Or, got two uninterested sentences from his manager. Galtier's statement summed up Messi's PSG career perfectly, though.
For all of his brilliance, Messi has never really impressed at PSG in the same way he did for Barcelona. In some senses, that's no shock. He is in his mid-thirties, and never wanted to leave his boyhood club. But it's more complex than that. So, where did it all go wrong for the GOAT at PSG?
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An early goal drought
Who would have thought that Messi would have some sort of expectation to meet? Part of Messi's challenge of being the greatest of all time is that it needs proving every year. Twitter trolls, as it turns out, require ammunition for their daily internet wars.
But those warriors were deprived of solid material for the Argentine's first few months in Paris. He wasn't exactly poor, but his return of seven goals and four assists in his first four months in the French capital was a disappointment by his own standards.
Whether a performance is good or not shouldn't be decided on stats alone, and Messi had his fair share of world-class moments — not least a memorable goal against Man City in the Champions League. But that signature consistency alluded him early on and has arguably never really returned.
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No one tracking back
Tactics were always going to be a problem in Paris. Putting Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar in the same team seemed like a recipe for attacking delight. But in the era of the high-press and hard-working forwards, the trio were always going to struggle out of possession.
And so it proved. PSG were immediately playing with eight men whenever they did not have the ball. That was fine in Ligue 1, when the Parisians were simply better than everyone else. But in the Champions League, it was disastrous.
It didn't help, of course, that a lot of the blame was pinned on new-boy Messi by the unrelenting PSG ultras. Messi was both a cause of and scapegoat for PSG's defensive woes, and his level of responsibility is up for debate. Still, the Argentine didn't run — an easy point of criticism for the Parisian skeptics.
Post-World Cup lull
Fast forward to January 2023, and things felt different around Parc des Princes. Messi had captured the one trophy that had eluded him for 20 years, lifting the World Cup for Argentina in Qatar. The Argentine took nearly two weeks off to celebrate. Meanwhile, Mbappe, having lost to Messi in the final, threw himself back into PSG training without rest.
The comparisons were always going to happen. Here was a star player, basking in his career's greatest achievement, lying on a beach on the other side of the world. Meanwhile, the local kid was already getting back to work. It didn't help, of course, that Mbappe spent the month of January playing hero for PSG, while Messi was near invisible.
And it's carried on since. Messi has sort of strolled around Ligue 1, his mind either still in Doha or fixated on Catalunya. His numbers have been agreeable, with 12 goal contributions since his return. Still, that's not been enough to stop the boos ringing down from the PSG faithful, while Galtier has spent months trying to dodge questions on his perceived lack of effort.
Perhaps Messi didn't care once he lifted the World Cup, and who could blame him? But he did himself no favours in terms of appeasing a riled-up fanbase.
- Saudi Tourism Authority
From one nation-state to another! A few eyebrows were raised when Messi agreed to be a tourism ambassador for Saudi Arabia a year ago, a commitment that netted him a handsome €30 million (£26m/$33 m) from a country associated with a host of human rights abuses.
And to his credit, Messi has shown unwavering support for the cause, something he proved a month ago when he took an unsanctioned trip to the Middle East to fulfill the requirements of his deal.
The Argentine infamously ignored the club's orders, skipping training after an embarrassing loss to Lorient and jetting off to Saudi Arabia for a brief trip. He earned a suspension for his troubles.
Messi, for his part, argued that he'd already pushed the trip back, and the whole thing was due to a breakdown in communication with the club. For the fans, it was interpreted as the actions of a player who no longer cared.
There is a wider issue at play with PSG in general here. The Parisians, for all of their talent, simply cannot win on the European stage. And that is not necessarily Messi's fault. In the two years the Argentine has been in Paris, the club were bested by a rampant Karim Benzema and outclassed by a more-balanced Bayern Munich.
The Argentine arrived in Paris with the goal, if not expectation, of European success. PSG are supposed to win Ligue 1 every year - they will do so with or without Messi. Still, Messi has been targeted, and it is perhaps slightly unfair.
Defensive errors by the likes of Marquinhos and Marco Verratti cost PSG against Bayern Munich. Gianluigi Donnarruma's howlers saw the Parisians blow a lead against Real Madrid. Still, Messi came to Parc des Princes with an unwritten responsibility, one he failed to fulfill.
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Messi is getting old. He was 34 when PSG signed him, and had needed protecting by Barcelona for a couple of years before he moved to France. PSG knew they were getting a player that couldn't run relentlessly for 90 minutes. They also probably knew that they would inherit a version of Messi that might pick up an injury or two, a sporting legend whose muscles could start to feel the wear and tear of ageing.
And while he hasn't been injury-stricken or simply unable to move, the impact of age has clearly affected the Argentine. He has missed a few games both this year and last due to calf problems. Meanwhile, his lack of running can also be attributed to the simple need to protect a player who cannot sprint around for a whole game every week. Messi is getting old. PSG, and their fans, have never really come to terms with that fact.
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Lack of connection
Everyone remembers the tears. The press conference that Messi could barely get through when he publicly announced that he was unable to continue at Barcelona. This was a player forced out, barred from his boyhood club due to financial mismanagement. Messi did not want to leave.
That's something his next club was destined to contend with. Barcelona is Messi's adopted home, a city he is still very much connected to. PSG, nice as it is, and welcoming as the fans were, was never going to fill that void. And that's difficult to deal with.
Messi is a professional footballer, paid lots of money, who is expected to play without complaint. He is not excused from any perceived lack of effort. But when the inevitable troubles came, it was clearly difficult for the Argentine to be truly dedicated to fixing them.
PSG's managerial struggles are well-documented at this point. It is, in effect, an impossible job, something the Parisians have proven by hiring a series of very good coaches and watching them fail. The tactical issue for every manager in recent years has been finding the right balance between attacking stars and everyone else. There is no obvious solution.
Still, Messi's two managers in Paris have failed spectacularly. Mauricio Pochettino won Ligue 1, but never got the best out of Messi. Galtier, meanwhile, has come with his own set of problems. But perhaps most alarmingly, he has made PSG weak at the back, a team lacking in his supposed strongest area.