June 20, 2024
Lionel Messi: Paris Saint-Germain now has 'no excuses' in quest for Champions League domination

Lionel Messi: Paris Saint-Germain now has ‘no excuses’ in quest for Champions League domination

But can this squad deliver Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), who bought PSG in 2011, the Champions League — the trophy the owners crave the most, but has so far eluded them?

The signings of highly-rated goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, Messi’s long-time adversary Sergio Ramos, Georginio Wijnaldum and Achraf Hakimi — added to an already stacked squad that includes Neymar and Kylian Mbappé — mean PSG will unquestionably be the overwhelming favorite to lift this season’s Champions League.

“QSI bought PSG in 2011 because they wanted increased exposure for the country ahead of an eventual World Cup,” Christian Nourry, founder of Get French Football News, told CNN Sport.

“That World Cup is now coming, it’s only next year, but what’s happened over the course of this decade is that we’ve seen Al Thani, the owner, fall in love with this club, really taking a lot of interest in this,” added Nourry, referring to the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

“[It’s] far more than a pet project for him and he’s seen this opportunity to create potentially the greatest attacking troika we’ve seen in modern football in Mbappé, Neymar and Messi, but also there are no excuses now.”

At PSG, Messi will work under coach Mauricio Pochettino, a former player of the Parisian club and a fellow Argentine.

“Mauricio Pochettino must win absolutely everything, that includes the Champions League, and he must do so in style, because in style has been something that Paris Saint-Germain have really struggled to do, with a largely counterattacking style of play over the course of the last two or three seasons,” added Nourry.

No pressure, then, Mauricio.

PSG ‘ideal’ for Messi

But it’s a sentiment that Messi appears to agree with.

In an interview with CNN after his arrival in Paris, the Argentine said he believes PSG is the “ideal” place for him to finally win another Champions League title.

Despite Messi’s consistently superlative individual performances over the years, the one blemish on his record in recent seasons has been his inability to again lead Barcelona to European football’s most coveted prize — although it is widely argued that the Catalan club’s ineptitude in building a suitable squad around him was the root cause of this.

That, however, will not be the case at PSG, a club now stacked with an eye-watering amount of talent and a visceral desire to win a first Champions League in its history.

“For me on a personal level, I would love to win another Champions League, like I’ve said in previous years, and I think I’ve come to the ideal place that’s ready for that,” Messi told CNN.

“We have the same goals. It’s got impressive players, one of the best squads in the world and, hopefully, we can achieve that goal which Paris wants so much, I want so much and hopefully we can enjoy it with the people of Paris too.”

Messi's signing for PSG means the French giants will have one of the most formidable attacking lines in the history of the game.

PSG’s new front three of Messi, Neymar and Mbappé is unquestionably the most talented attack in world football and will give opposition defenders and managers nightmares trying to conjure up ways to stop them.

“It’s all just going to be about how many goals and assists is he [Messi] getting compared to Kylian Mbappé and Neymar,” Nourry says. “Who is going to be taking the majority of that responsibility on? I can’t wait to find out.”

Off the pitch, though, questions have already been asked about PSG’s finances and how the club has been able to get around the Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations.

“We’re always attentive to Financial Fair Play. It’s the first thing we check with the commercial, financial and legal people before signing someone,” PSG chairman and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi told reporters on Wednesday when Messi was officially unveiled.

When rumors of Messi’s arrival began circulating, it was suggested that PSG would have to offload Mbappé — reportedly to Real Madrid — in order to balance the books. The French club, however, has been adamant that is far from the case.

“The message is clear from Paris Saint-Germain around Kylian Mbappé: the two situations are not linked,” Nourry says. “Mbappé has 12 months left on his contract. In fact, Paris Saint-Germain are confident this signing will encourage him more to sign a new extension.

“The argument that we hear a lot in the capital of France at the moment is: why would you go this summer or next to Real Madrid to play alongside Karim Benzema and Vinícius Júnior, when you could spend the next three seasons alongside Neymar and Lionel Messi for your development. I think that’s a pretty strong argument.”

French football rules allow clubs to operate with a wage bill that is almost 100% of its annual income, a far cry from the strict Spanish rules that ultimately forced Messi’s departure from Barcelona.

UEFA, European football’s governing body, has also relaxed its FFP regulations since the Covid-19 outbreak, allowing clubs to operate with annual losses of more than $35 million as long as they can prove these were due to the pandemic.

“Having said that, Paris Saint-Germain have promised to make €180 million ($211M) worth of player sales this summer to the French football financial watchdog, the DNCG,” Nourry explains.

“They’ve only done about €8 million of that, so it’s going to be a very busy four weeks if they are to fulfill that and because the transfer market has moved very, very slowly for the majority of clubs, I think that’s going to be tricky.

“But Paris Saint-Germain are looking to sell — or being open to sell — 12-14 players, those include lesser stars like Mauro Icardi and Pablo Sarabia, but [there is] no intention to sell a key player this summer in Paris.”

Boost for French football?

Perhaps the only people licking their lips at Messi’s arrival as much as PSG fans are those in charge of France’s top division, Ligue 1, and Amazon.

“The arrival of Lionel Messi will increase the attractiveness and visibility of our championship on all continents,” said Ligue 1 President Vincent Labrune in a statement on Wednesday.

“This unique event is the result of the strategy of the Paris Saint-Germain management, which has enabled the Parisian club to become one of the biggest franchises in world sport in 10 years.

“On behalf of French professional football, I want to thank PSG Chairman and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaïfi for making this dream possible,” added Lebrune, who ended his statement with three words: “Messi is magic!”

Nourry calls the signing a “huge surprise” for French football, but it is certainly a welcome one given the financial struggles the league has faced over the past 18 months.

Ligue 1 not only had to deal with the implications of being the only one of Europe’s top five leagues not able to finish the 2019/20 season due to Covid, but also with the collapse of broadcast partner Mediapro, which had been paying almost $1 billion per year for broadcast rights.

Amazon has since come in to pick up the majority of broadcasting rights, around eight matches per week, in a deal reported by the Financial Times to be worth $323 million per season, with French broadcaster Canal+ paying $390 million per season for two matches per week.

“[It’s] a great opportunity taken by Paris Saint-Germain and will hopefully result in lots of exposure for Ligue 1,” Nourry says. “Because we’re about 50% down on the TV rights deal this year compared to last year, with the collapse of Mediapro.

“So there’s lots of excitement in France, but it’s probably not going to stop about seven or eight clubs in the division this season from being unable to pay back loans they took out during Covid-19.”

However, Kieran Maguire, author of “The Price of Football,” believes that while PSG will certainly receive a financial boost from Messi’s signing, that won’t necessarily be the case for Ligue 1.

Maguire says the increased lack of competitiveness at the top of the league, created by PSG’s financial outlay this summer, will cause broadcaster interest to “wane quite quickly” and remains unconvinced Messi’s signing will “create a long queue” of suitors desperate to pay for TV rights.

“PSG will benefit because we already saw last night — 150,000 shirts sold within seven minutes was the claim — so they will benefit from being able to generate more money on match days,” he told CNN. “Even if they don’t put up the price of regular tickets, the commercial department will effectively be able to name their own price for hospitality packages.

Lionel Messi shirts have been in high demand at PSG's club stores.

“If you want to go in this box — if you’re a big firm of lawyers or accountants or you’re an investment banker and you want to entertain a client — we’ve got Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé and Neymar leading the line. How much are you willing to pay for that? So I think they’ll be able to to increase their revenues.”

Given Messi’s considerable talents and PSG now boasting arguably the greatest attacking trio in history, Maguire says it also seems likely that the club will earn more prize money for reaching the latter stages of the Champions League.

“So I think there’s lots of benefits for the club,” he explains. “But for French football as a whole, yes, there will be an initial media interest and a curiosity value attached to his recruitment, [but] whether that will convert into significant increases in the value of a broadcast deal … I’m not so certain.”