End of the Parisian dream: What next for Lionel Messi after he departs PSG?

With his Paris Saint-Germain chapter set to close, Lionel Messi has three options: FC Barcelona, Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia, and Inter Miami of the US

Lionel Messi-PSG
Lionel Messi. File photo: Twitter

With Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) Football Club handing over a suspension for 15 days for an alleged breach of discipline, Lionel Messi’s Paris project has virtually come to a close. It’s an inevitable ending that was on the cards from the beginning of his first season in League 1.

Messi’s ‘unsanctioned’ trip to Saudi Arabia was the last push to an already strained relationship with the Qatari management of the Parisian club. Although the club has not yet issued an official statement, it is apparent that the relationship between the Argentine captain and the club has almost severed.

According to Italian journalist Fabrizio Romano, Lionel Messi knew he had 2-3 days off after the game and he communicated to PSG about travelling to Saudi Arabia on May 1, but when he was already travelling, PSG suddenly changed the plans and they put training on Monday, a decision which has everything to do with the humiliating defeat by FC Lorient at Parc de Princes.

Why is Messi struggling to find his rhythm with PSG?

“Messi had already changed his Saudi Arabia plans two times to respect PSG in the last few months. And, in this case, he communicated to PSG, but when he was already on flight, it was impossible for Leo to change the plans. He has always been a great professional at PSG, he never created any kind of problem,” reported Romano.

The third wheel in PSG’s system

Argentine journalist Gaston Edul somewhat corroborates Romano’s claims, saying that “the real reason for his suspension is not missing a training session, but the club wants to turn the situation around when they see that for weeks Messi had no intention and is far from renewing his contract”. It is believed that Leo’s father and manager Jorge Messi had already communicated to the PSG management that he would be leaving Paris by the end of the season.

According to Edul, PSG had already given up on convincing Messi because they could only offer money like they did with Kylian Mbappe. Messi, on his part, did not want money rather he wanted a good sporting project which PSG can’t guarantee.

The PSG management was ever confused about what strategy to adopt with two of the world’s best players in their ranks. The moment they decided to go forward with Mbappe as their future icon, Messi had become the third wheel in their system. Now, the million-dollar question obviously is where Messi would be playing football from July onwards.

Also read: PSG suspends Messi for unapproved trip to Saudi Arabia

Options at hand

FC Barcelona, Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia and Inter Miami of the Major League Soccer (MLS) of the US are the three options he readily has at hand. More clubs are expected to join the fray once the 35-year-old world champion becomes a free agent in June. Football pundits and fans have started debating these questions already. Is it financially feasible for him to re-join Barcelona, the team he so ably represented until 2021? Does Messi’s lucrative ambassadorship with the Saudi government indicate that he will follow Cristiano Ronaldo and play club football in the Middle East? Could David Beckham and company persuade him to relocate to Inter Miami and Major League Soccer, as has long been proposed? It is a well-established fact that Messi’s priority is to play in competitive football in Europe at least for another couple of seasons.

As per Javier Tebas, the president of La Liga, if Barça signs Messi, his salary will be less than what it is at PSG, and his return will depend on the selling of other players. “Messi doesn’t want to have the same kind of experience with Barça when he was forced to leave two years ago. He doesn’t want to be in the same situation again. He wants to find the right opportunity and best direction for his career, also with the right timing,” reports Romano.

Messi’s tryst with football fans may have hit an all-time low in Paris when the PSG ultras chose to demonstrate in front of the PSG headquarters, immediately after the news about the suspension was out.  They took out a protest march to Neymar Junior’s house also, chanting totally disrespectful slogans against the South American stars, dubbing them as overrated players and mercenaries, not to mention the use of totally inappropriate language. It was an organised protest of around 400 supporters at the club’s base, which was later condemned by the club management.

“PSG condemns with firmness the intolerable insulting actions of a small group of individuals. Nothing can justify such acts,” tweeted the club. PSG’s treatment of Messi has not gone well with many of his former mates, as well.  “In a few years, PSG will regret having treated Leo Messi like this. Any team in the world would give anything to have him, but it’s a shame because his fans, instead of enjoying him, spent these two years criticizing him,” said Javier Mascherano, his former teammate at Argentina and Barcelona.

Parallel with Maradona

The situation Messi is in draws a strange parallel with the life story of Diego Maradona, who got suspended (for an entirely different and serious reason) by Napoli in 1991. “Maybe it’s just me but this Lionel Messi and PSG ending has some parallels to Diego Maradona and Napoli. Argentina, with Maradona, eliminated Italy at the 1990 World Cup. Maradona’s career in Italy was never the same. There were other serious problems in Diego’s case but those ‘other problems’ became a real ‘problem’ only after the 1990 World Cup. They knew about it all well before Argentina eliminated Italy,” observes Roy Nemer, the editor of the football website, Mundo Albiceleste.

In fact, there is a huge difference in the two stories. Maradona was so revered by Napoli supporters that they rooted for Argentina in their match with Italy in Naples. The much-discussed ‘Naples is not Italia’ banner was erected in that particular match.

Also read: Lionel Messi: When geometry and poetry coalesce into football

Just before the semi-final clash against Italy in 1990, Maradona had managed to enrage the majority of Italy as well as unnerve the Italian side by his remarks of Naples and Napoli. “Neapolitans, you shouldn’t forget that in Italy they do not consider you to be Italians. For the other 364 days of the year, they refer to you as Africans while they come and ask for your support on one day of the year,” he racked up the issue of discrimination.

Maradona’s inflammatory remarks caused a stir in the Italian media and among his supporters. There was unease in the stadium on the day of the game. In Naples, Maradona was revered as a deity and a man worthy of worship, but in this World Cup, he was the anti-Christ, attempting to send Italy home.

It was after this World Cup that Maradona was given a suspension for 15 months after testing positive for cocaine use.

“I returned from Italy to Buenos Aires on April 1, 1991. I did not run away. I went back because I wanted to because I couldn’t take anymore. I have the date imprinted on my mind because I did not deserve to leave like that, like a delinquent, and because it marked a very clear before and after in my career. Barely a week later, the Italians announced that they were suspending me for 15 months. I would not be allowed to do what I know best, to play football, for 15 months. It was a terrible sentence, unjust,” wrote Diego in his autobiography El Diego (2000).

The only visible factor that could be compared to the Maradona story is the growing unhappiness of the French people with Messi and the Argentine team after the world cup final, which has undoubtedly increased the resentment of the PSG ultras. When drawing parallels, it’s interesting to note that Napoli, after Maradona left, was relegated and it took them another decade to come back to their elements.