Soccer

Lionel Messi signs 2-year contract with Paris Saint-Germain

Lionel Messi finally signed his eagerly anticipated Paris Saint-Germain contract on Tuesday night to complete the move that confirms the end of a career-long association with Barcelona and sends PSG into a new era.

'I am excited to begin a new chapter of my career,' says 34-year-old Argentine star

Lionel Messi waves after arriving at Le Bourget airport, north of Paris, on Tuesday. The 34-year-old Argentine star signed a two-year contract with Paris Saint-Germain, confirming the end of a career-long association with Barcelona. (Francois Mori/The Associated Press)

Lionel Messi finally signed his eagerly anticipated Paris Saint-Germain contract on Tuesday night to complete the move that confirms the end of a career-long association with Barcelona and sends PSG into a new era.

PSG said in a statement that the 34-year-old Argentina star signed a two-year deal with the option for a third season.

"I am excited to begin a new chapter of my career at Paris Saint-Germain," Messi said. "Everything about the club matches my football ambitions. I know how talented the squad and the coaching staff are here. I am determined to help build something special for the club and the fans, and I am looking forward to stepping out onto the pitch at the Parc des Princes."

No salary details were given, but a person with knowledge of the negotiations earlier told The Associated Press that Messi is set to earn around 35 million euros ($41 million Cdn) net annually. The person spoke on condition of anonymity before the contract was signed.

"I am delighted that Lionel Messi has chosen to join Paris Saint-Germain and we are proud to welcome him and his family to Paris," PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi said. "He has made no secret of his desire to continue competing at the very highest level and winning trophies, and naturally our as a club is to do the same."

It is symbolic that Messi will wear the No. 30 jersey — the same number he wore in his first two seasons with Barcelona before switching to No. 19 and then the prized No. 10, which Neymar gets to keep at PSG.

Throngs of PSG fans gathered at Le Bourget Airport in Paris to welcome Messi, who was wearing a T-shirt featuring "Ici c'est Paris" — "This is Paris."

The words are a long-familiar refrain from a favoured fan chant at Parc des Princes stadium, where Messi is to be presented to them before kickoff of Saturday night's game against Strasbourg.

Such was the fervor of his arrival that police had to push back to stop metal barriers from toppling over at the airport as fans surged forward to get a better view. He then traveled into Paris with a police escort that included several officers on motorbikes and clad in black at the back of it.

As disbelief at landing one of soccer's all-time greats turned to sheer enthusiasm, many gathered for a glimpse of Messi at the stadium. They got their wish as the smiling superstar briefly waved to them before he underwent a medical check.

Earlier, Messi's father and agent, Jorge, had also confirmed his son was moving to PSG in a brief exchange with reporters at Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport before he took his flight in the early afternoon.

Lionel Messi confirmed that he is leaving FC Barcelona at a tearful press conference on Sunday. (Joan Monfort/The Associated Press )

Messi arrived with his wife and three children and boarded a private jet.

"With it all, toward a new adventure. The five together," Antonela Roccuzzo said on Instagram alongside a photo with her husband on the plane.

PSG supporters have seen their club transformed over the last decade since the influx of Qatari sovereign wealth investment linked to the emir. Once Messi's Barcelona contract expired — and the Catalan club was unable to afford to keep him — PSG was one of the few clubs that could finance a deal to sign the six-time world player of the year.

Formidable attacking options

Messi's arrival gives PSG formidable attacking options as he links up with France World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe and Brazil forward Neymar.

"Back together," Neymar posted on Instagram over a video of them hugging, playing for Barcelona.

While PSG had to pay 222 million euros (then $261 million US) to sign Neymar from Barcelona in 2017, there was no transfer fee for Messi.

Messi became the most desired free agent in soccer history after his attempts to stay at Barcelona were rejected last week by the Spanish league because the salary would not comply with financial regulations, with the Catalan club burdened by debts of more than 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion US).

Messi had been Barcelona's all-time top scorer. (Joan Monfort/The Associated Press)

PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino quickly made contact with his fellow Argentine after Barcelona announced last Thursday that Messi would be leaving the club he joined as a 13-year-old.

Messi won every major honour with Barcelona and was granted a tearful exit news conference on Sunday to signal the end of an era. Only Cristiano Ronaldo in the current era challenges Messi's status as an all-time great.

Messi on right side, Neymar on left?

PSG will be hoping not only that Messi helps the team regain the French title it lost to Lille last season, but finally win the Champions League.

If Pochettino uses a 4-3-3 formation, the front three could see Messi deployed on the right with Neymar on the left and Mbappe between them as the centre forward.

The quandary for Pochettino would be how to use Angel Di Maria, whose goal sealed the Copa America title last month, and another Argentine attacker — Mauro Icardi. It's a tactical challenge most coaches would relish, with a 4-2-3-1 or 3-5-2 also in the mix to accommodate the attacking talents available.

Messi, left, will be reunited with his former teammate Neymar in Paris. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

Debate over financial fair play rules

The arrival of Messi, whose last contract with Barca was worth a total of 555 million euros and reported to be the most lucrative in world sport, is also set to provoke a renewed debate about financial fair play rules in the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).

Some flexibility has been provided in the rules due to the pandemic and changes are due to the system that was designed to stem club financial losses.

It is PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi who, as chairman of the European Club Association and a member of UEFA's executive committee, is involved in the process of discussing a wider update to financial fair play that could allow more unchecked spending again.

The rules were first introduced in 2009 to restrict some of the worst excesses of the game but have been criticized by some leading figures for being ineffective.

The arrival of Messi, who has 245 million followers on Instagram and is Barcelona's most decorated player of all time, is also welcome news for France's Ligue 1, embroiled in a crisis over TV rights.

With files from Reuters

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