Where does Lionel’s career end from world champion Lionel Messi? Probably not in Paris. Around 20 months after his tearful farewell to FC Barcelona and the move to Paris St. Germain, a future together for the multiple world footballer and the French series champion seems more unlikely than ever.
The club suspended the Argentinian superstar for two weeks at the crucial stage of the French league title fight – something Messi has never experienced in his entire career. But PSG doesn’t seem to want to grant Messi a special status. No longer. A trip to the Gulf state of Saudi Arabia, for which Messi is active as a tourism ambassador, that was not agreed with the club could now mean the end of the liaison, which was never intimate. Messi and PSG, that was a purposeful connection from the start.
Angry fans in Paris
After the embarrassing 3-1 home defeat against FC Lorient, coach Christophe Galtier had scheduled a training session for Monday at short notice. Messi was absent due to his trip to the Gulf. That didn’t just bother the PSG leadership. The world champion from Argentina also seems to have gambled away credit with the fans. In the game against Lorient there was a booing of Messi and other PSG stars.
Several hundred PSG fans vented their anger in front of the club grounds after the 1: 3 home defeat against Lorient
On Wednesday, several hundred supporters, mostly ultras, gathered in front of the PSG office and vented their anger at the star ensemble. Around 100 angry fans then marched in front of Brazilian Neymar’s house in Paris and chanted: “Get lost, Neymar!” The club sharply condemned the action and increased security at the training ground and in front of the homes of Messi, Neymar and Italian Marco Verratti.
“It can’t be true. How can he? Especially in the crucial phase of the season, when Paris isn’t champion yet and it’s getting tighter at the top of the table,” said former French international Robert Pirès on Canal+ ” on Messi’s trip to Saudi Arabia. “If I were a PSG player, I would be mad at him.”
Will Messi follow Ronaldo?
The signs are pointing to a farewell, despite an alleged verbal commitment by Messi to extend his contract for another year. With the suspension of Messi, the club is sending a signal and is said to be already planning a major change in personnel – without the superstar, who was weak after winning the World Cup. But where could Messi’s path lead? Rather not go back to FC Barcelona. The long-established Catalan club may be on the verge of winning the Spanish championship but continue to be plagued by financial difficulties.
More likely, the Argentine will follow his eternal rival, Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, to Saudi Arabia after his contract expires in Paris after this season. The connection to the Gulf state already exists through Messi’s role as a tourism ambassador. And Ronaldo’s move to Al-Nassr FC proved that salaries can be paid in Saudi Arabia that are astronomically high even for the heavyweights of top European football.
The club from the Saudi capital Riyadh is said to pay the 37-year-old Portuguese around 200 million euros a year. With a contract term of two and a half years, that makes around half a billion euros. Messi could even earn significantly more. The Saudi club Al-Hilal is said to be offering him around 400 million euros a year.
Messi and Ronaldo are no longer dependent on their salaries as footballers. In addition to the many millions they have already earned in their long and successful professional careers, the two aging superstars have lucrative endorsement deals. Messi is also likely to be royally rewarded for his work as Saudi Arabia’s tourism ambassador – one can only speculate about the amount.
But money plays no role in the sports strategy of Saudi Arabia and other countries such as Qatar, which are extremely rich due to natural resources, it’s about sports washing: These countries are heavily involved in sports to polish their image, which has been scratched by human rights violations. Saudi Arabia’s neighboring country Qatar, which owns Messi’s club Paris St. Germain and landed the big hit by hosting the 2022 World Cup, has shown the way. Saudi Arabia wants to follow suit and is said to be planning an application for the 2030 World Cup together with Egypt and Greece.
Before that, the Gulf State will host the newly established FIFA Club World Cup with 32 teams from December 2023 – as a kind of World Cup test run. And the powerful man in the background, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has also kept an eye on the Olympic Games as part of his sportswashing strategy.
“Who knew Saudi Arabia was so green? I love exploring the unexpected wonders whenever I can. Visit Saudi Arabia!”, was on Lionel Messi’s Instagram account after his controversial trip to Saudi Arabia to read. The post was marked with the note “paid advertising partnership”.