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Lionel Messi: The inside story of Paris St-Germain forward’s first months in France


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Lionel Messi celebrates his goal against Manchester City - his first for PSG
Messi’s first purpose for PSG was a shocking end reminiscent of his easiest

When 150,000 Lionel Messi shirts went on sale on Paris St-Germain’s web site the day his signing was introduced, they have been gone inside seven minutes.

PSG have been right here earlier than, when Neymar signed about 4 years earlier, however it’s honest to say even they have been shocked by the joy that has greeted the arrival of Argentine famous person Messi.

For the person himself, although, this can be 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 referred to as in to choose up his document sixth Ballon d’Or.

From the second he landed in France in August, everybody at PSG has made a giant effort to make him really feel welcome. A gaggle assembly was organised at Ander Herrera’s residence, the place the participant was holding a barbecue to have fun 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 teen when he made his senior debut for Barca.

He was additionally pleasantly shocked 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, discuss 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 health club gear by Sebastiano Pochettino, the supervisor’s son. Messi appeared puzzled, firstly as a result of it amused him that the little child he had final seen working round a Barcelona flat as a younger little one was now the man suggesting a coaching regime. Secondly, he wasn’t positive 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 appear first for his diagonal runs from the suitable wing, working along with little passes earlier than that ultimate injection of tempo up entrance.

And Neymar has been more than pleased to transform himself right into a winger once more, enjoying on the left as he did with Messi at Barcelona, as an alternative of being on the centre of the whole lot, as he had been to this point at PSG.

Against Manchester City in the Champions League last week, nevertheless, it was completely different. PSG rapidly realised they would not dominate possession so that they dropped again and appeared to counter assault. They did so to nice impact, however enjoying that means you’ll at all times get much less out of Messi.

They will count on to be the workforce controlling possession in most video games. But that will current one other downside: such a method advantages Messi and Neymar greater than Mbappe, as a result of the Frenchman wants house to run. It’s a dynamic which may be tough for Pochettino to stability.

All three forwards additionally have to work tougher defensively. There have been examples in the first few video games of the workforce exhibiting an inclination to separate in two, with the three stars up entrance shedding contact with the remaining of the aspect.

They actually got here unstuck on the weekend, losing 2-0 at Rennes for a first league defeat of the season – and with out managing a shot on track. Before that that they had gained all eight of their Ligue 1 video games as they search to regain the title gained by Lille final time period.

Just a few weeks earlier, a lot was made of Messi’s substitution in his home debut, a 2-1 win against Lyon on 20 September. But tales about him being “stunned” and “bewildered” about being changed are broad 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 appropriate as Messi missed the subsequent the subsequent couple of days’ coaching.

There was by no means a query about Messi’s dedication to the workforce. And if proof have been wanted it got here when, after scoring a shocking 74th-minute purpose 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 often taken by Verratti who had by that point been substituted) he did not suppose twice.

Here was one other instance of the skin world leaping to misread Messi’s temper. While former top players opted to take offence on his behalf and bluster a few 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.

Lionel Messi in the 'draught excluder' position
Messi joined PSG on a two-year contract, with an possibility for a 3rd 12 months

That defeat at Rennes apart, the one teething issues for Messi to this point have come off the pitch.

The Argentine was lower than impressed that particulars of his contract and wages have 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 alleged 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 often 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 recognized the place he lived, his household’s privateness was revered.

In France it’s trying like changing into a special story and he isn’t pleased with the intrusion, not least as a result of it represents a possible safety risk.

Lionel Messi and family pose for a photo on the Parc des Princes pitch
Messi and spouse Antonela have been collectively since 2008

Living together with his household in a lodge – albeit an especially luxurious and spacious one – is much from ideally suited, though it must be mentioned that Pochettino nonetheless does the identical.

The household’s major goal is to settle as quickly as doable, though that’s simpler mentioned than executed as a result of there should not many properties in Paris that may supply the backyard and expansive outside dwelling they loved at their residence in Castelldefels on the outskirts of Barcelona.

At the second they often take walks round parks close to their lodge, at all times accompanied by safety. But the seek for a house is sort of executed, and making an attempt to place the whole lot 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 greatest good friend, confidante and, in a scenario like this, a basic part in making certain the whole lot runs as easily as doable.

Messi first met Antonela Roccuzzo, a fellow native of Rosario, when he was simply 5 years outdated. She is the cousin of his childhood greatest good friend 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 robust and secure. The concept he would ever have contemplated the transfer with out the whole help of his soulmate and his youngsters that he adores is unthinkable.

Perhaps acutely aware of the notion that the “fruit never falls far 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 faculty and spends time with some of her private tasks: sponsorships, partnerships and endorsements for herself, in addition to being energetic on social media.

When the household look out of their lodge window the probabilities are they’ll be capable of see some of the numerous supporters who nonetheless collect there, though the preliminary wave of euphoria has a minimum of 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 towards Manchester City, that they had offered out.

His purpose in that sport – and the promise of many extra to return – means we ought to be in for fairly a journey.

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