Paris, France: As Lionel Messi prepared to say farewell to Barcelona in a club press conference on Sunday, French fans and media alike were salivating over the impact the superstar’s mooted arrival at Paris Saint-Germain would have on the club and the French league.
The 34-year-old will take questions from the press at noon (1000 GMT) on Sunday, Barcelona said in a statement. They will be his first public comments since his departure was announced.
Meanwhile, PSG appeared to be closing in on a deal for the Argentinian superstar with Nasser al-Khelaifi, the president of the Qatar-owned club, and sporting director Leonardo both missing the team’s 2-1 win at Troyes in their Ligue 1 season-opener on Saturday.
“There have been lots of rumors. Lots of things are being said,” said PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino.
“I just hope we will be strong enough to try to win every competition we are involved in.”
Messi had been expected to stay in Barcelona on a much-reduced salary but president Joan Laporta said on Friday he was not prepared “to put the club at risk” by renewing Messi’s contract, as they face up to huge financial problems.
Many in Catalonia are struggling to accept the departure of the 34-year-old who has been with the club since he signed a contract on a napkin at the age of 13.
“Still hard to understand that you will not play for @FCBarcelona anymore,” tweeted coach Ronald Koeman, the man whose goal won Barca their first European Cup in 1992.
“Thanks for everything you have done for our club, Leo. I really enjoyed the full season we worked together. I am impressed with your work ethic and desire to win.”
Former teammate Cesc Fabregas, who first played against the 13-year-old Messi, also posted a warm tribute.
“You leave as the best player of all time. It will never be the same to see Barca without you. Thank you, thank you, and thank you for everything you have given,” he tweeted.
With Manchester City coach and former Messi mentor, Pep Guardiola, saying the Premier League champions are not in the market, that left Qatari-backed PSG as the only suitors with deep enough pockets — in Spain, he was reportedly earning over 70 million euros ($82.3m) a year net.
Barcelona-based daily Sport insisted on Saturday that “for the moment, Messi has no offer from any club.”
Yet Laporta indicated on Friday that Messi “has other offers and there is a time limit because La Liga starts soon and he needs time to assess his other options.”
Messi has lifted the Champions League four times with Barcelona and PSG is desperate for the final piece to take them to that honor.
‘Marriage of love and reason’
Former Barcelona teammate, Brazilian Neymar, has made no secret of his desire for a reunion.
He would also team up in attack with his Argentina colleague Angel di Maria as well as Kylian Mbappe, the 22-year-old tipped to succeed Messi as the leading player on the planet.
An added attraction could be Pochettino, who like Messi started his career at Newell’s Old Boys in Rosario, Argentina.
“Messi to Paris, it’s yes,” read a headline in Le Parisien which described the sealing of a “marriage of love and reason”.
Sports daily L’Equipe reported Messi will receive a three-year “record contract” with various reports saying he stands to earn 35 million euros a season — but it appears nothing has been signed.
Other French clubs welcomed the idea of Messi lighting up Ligue 1.
“For me he is the best player in the world. If he comes to Ligue 1 anyone who likes football is going to enjoy it,” said the Lyon coach, Peter Bosz.
Le Parisien reported that Messi’s father and representative Jorge had reached out to PSG after it became clear the player would not be staying in Catalonia.
Numbers point to exit
Messi originally reached an agreement with Barcelona to sign a five-year contract worth 50 percent less per year.
But La Liga’s financial fair play rules, which are expected to reduce the amount Barca can spend on salaries this season by some 200 million euros ($235 million), led Laporta to conclude they were unable to complete the deal.
“We could not accommodate Messi’s contract,” said Laporta, who was re-elected as club president in March and said Friday he would not “mortgage” the club for anybody.
“The situation we have inherited is abominable and the sports salary bill represents 110 percent of the club’s income.
“La Liga’s rules set limitations and we have no margin. We have known the situation since we arrived but the numbers we have seen are even worse than we thought.”
Barcelona has total debts of almost 1.2 billion euros, with more than half of that needing to be repaid in the short term.
“Leo wanted to stay and he’s not happy,” Laporta admitted of a player who has broken a slew of records in his 17 years at the club, not least netting 672 goals to earn what Laporta termed the club’s “eternal gratitude.”