When 150,000 Lionel Messi shirts went on sale on Paris St-Germain’s web site the day his signing was introduced, they had been gone inside seven minutes.
PSG have been right here earlier than, when Neymar signed about 4 years earlier, however it’s truthful to say even they had been stunned by the joy that has greeted the arrival of Argentine celebrity Messi.
For the person himself, although, it is a fully new expertise. He joined Barcelona as a boy, aged 13. Now 34, he and his younger household are adjusting to a brand new life in a metropolis he had final visited in December 2019, when he known as in to choose up his file sixth Ballon d’Or.
From the second he landed in France in August, everybody at PSG has made an enormous effort to make him really feel welcome. A bunch assembly was organised at Ander Herrera’s residence, the place the participant was holding a barbecue to rejoice his birthday, and Messi has felt backed in the dressing room from the day he arrived.
Even former Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos, with whom Messi locked horns on quite a few events in Spain, was fast to welcome him, and earlier than signing he had already mentioned the chance of signing with Angel di Maria, Neymar and Leandro Paredes.
Neymar even went as far as to supply him his quantity 10 shirt, which Messi declined, opting as an alternative for the quantity 30 that he wore as a youngster when he made his senior debut for Barca.
He was additionally pleasantly stunned by the heat of the reception given to him by Kylian Mbappe – who by the way speaks excellent Spanish – in addition to that of happy-go-lucky workforce joker Marco Verratti.
The good rapport Messi has at all times loved with PSG boss and countryman Mauricio Pochettino was another excuse why the transfer was engaging. They perceive each other, speak the identical language each actually and figuratively, and spoke on the cellphone simply after it was introduced that Messi was leaving Barcelona. Theirs is a relationship that goes again a way.
At his first day of PSG coaching, Messi was proven some gymnasium gear by Sebastiano Pochettino, the supervisor’s son. Messi regarded puzzled, firstly as a result of it amused him that the little child he had final seen operating round a Barcelona flat as a younger baby was now the man suggesting a coaching regime. Secondly, he wasn’t certain what to do with the gear. Yes, he had seen them at Barcelona, however he’d by no means been requested to make use of them.
That is one other instance of change for Messi, however out on the pitch issues have been extra acquainted. From his first match, a 2-0 win at Reims on 29 August, PSG have performed like a workforce constructed round him. In assault they give the impression of being first for his diagonal runs from the correct wing, working along with little passes earlier than that closing injection of tempo up entrance.
And Neymar has been very happy to transform himself right into a winger once more, taking part in on the left as he did with Messi at Barcelona, as an alternative of being on the centre of every thing, as he had been thus far at PSG.
Against Manchester City in the Champions League final week, nonetheless, it was completely different. PSG rapidly realised they would not dominate possession in order that they dropped again and regarded to counter assault. They did so to nice impact, however taking part in that manner you’ll at all times get much less out of Messi.
They will anticipate to be the workforce controlling possession in most video games. But which will current one other downside: such a method advantages Messi and Neymar greater than Mbappe, as a result of the Frenchman wants area to run. It’s a dynamic which may be troublesome for Pochettino to stability.
All three forwards additionally must work tougher defensively. There have been examples in the first few video games of the workforce exhibiting a bent to separate in two, with the three stars up entrance shedding contact with the remainder of the aspect.
They actually got here unstuck on the weekend, shedding 2-0 at Rennes for a first league defeat of the season – and with out managing a shot on course. Before that they’d received all eight of their Ligue 1 video games as they search to regain the title received by Lille final time period.
A couple of weeks earlier, a lot was made of Messi’s substitution in his residence debut, a 2-1 win in opposition to Lyon on 20 September. But tales about him being “shocked” and “bewildered” about being changed are huge of the mark.
While it’s actually true that Messi desires to play each minute of each sport, Pochettino made the choice to take him off as he knew he had felt some discomfort in his knee. The supervisor suspected one thing was fallacious, and his intuition proved to be right as Messi missed the following the following couple of days’ coaching.
There was by no means a query about Messi’s dedication to the workforce. And if proof had been wanted it got here when, after scoring a shocking 74th-minute aim to seal the 2-0 victory over Manchester City, he took on the position of “draught excluder” in a defensive wall. When captain Marquinhos requested him to do it (the place is generally taken by Verratti who had by that point been substituted) he did not assume twice.
Here was one other instance of the surface world leaping to misread Messi’s temper. While former high gamers opted to take offence on his behalf and bluster a couple of humiliation for the nice participant, Messi himself noticed it as not more than one thing he needed to do for the sake of the workforce.
That defeat at Rennes apart, the one teething issues for Messi thus far have come off the pitch.
The Argentine was lower than impressed that particulars of his contract and wages had been revealed on the entrance cowl of French newspaper L’Equipe. In Spain it took years for his wage to be leaked, in France it took lower than two months – though the report is claimed to have been inaccurate.
Added to that’s an irritating cleaning soap opera growing across the Messi household’s seek for a property in Paris. The native press have ceaselessly featured interviews with property brokers and property consultants pontificating as to what kind of residence they need to purchase.
In Spain it was at all times all in regards to the soccer and whereas it was at all times identified the place he lived, his household’s privateness was revered.
In France it’s wanting like turning into a unique story and he’s not proud of the intrusion, not least as a result of it represents a possible safety menace.
Living along with his household in a lodge – albeit an especially luxurious and spacious one – is much from ultimate, though it must be stated that Pochettino nonetheless does the identical.
The household’s fundamental goal is to settle as quickly as doable, though that’s simpler stated than completed as a result of there should not many properties in Paris that may supply the backyard and expansive out of doors dwelling they loved at their residence in Castelldefels on the outskirts of Barcelona.
At the second they sometimes take walks round parks close to their lodge, at all times accompanied by safety. But the seek for a house is sort of completed, and making an attempt to place every thing in place is Messi’s spouse Antonela.
It is unattainable to overstate her position, not simply as a companion and mom of their youngsters, but in addition as finest pal, confidante and, in a scenario like this, a basic part in guaranteeing every thing runs as easily as doable.
Messi first met Antonela Roccuzzo, a fellow native of Rosario, when he was simply 5 years previous. She is the cousin of his childhood finest pal Lucas Scaglia, who can also be a footballer.
The couple, collectively since 2008, are inseparable. Messi has been fast to say the toughest factor about making the choice to return to Paris was telling first his spouse then his youngsters in regards to the transfer.
But in Antonela he has his rock, the pillar of energy that retains the household sturdy and secure. The thought he would ever have contemplated the transfer with out the whole help of his soulmate and his youngsters that he adores is unthinkable.
Perhaps aware of the notion that the “fruit by no means falls removed from the tree”, Messi’s two oldest youngsters prepare twice per week with PSG’s younger sides, and Antonella has taken cost of that. She additionally takes the kids to and from college and spends time with some of her private initiatives: sponsorships, partnerships and endorsements for herself, in addition to being energetic on social media.
When the household look out of their lodge window the possibilities are they are going to be capable of see some of the numerous supporters who nonetheless collect there, though the preliminary wave of euphoria has not less than calmed to the extent that the fences put in place to maintain the hordes at bay have now been eliminated.
But “Messimania” exhibits no signal of abating in Paris extra broadly. When I walked into the membership store with the intention of shopping for both a house or away PSG Messi shirt on the day of the sport in opposition to Manchester City, they’d bought out.
His aim in that sport – and the promise of many extra to return – means we must be in for fairly a journey.