France is waiting impatiently for Lionel Messi with supporters gathering outside Paris Saint-Germain’s ground on Monday hoping to see the Argentine who is expected to join the Qatar-owned club after his exit from Barcelona.
PSG fans stood at the entrance to the Parc des Princes in the hope the 34-year-old superstar might appear, while others gathered at Le Bourget airport to the north of the French capital just in case Messi landed there.
Paris is expected to be Messi’s next destination after his tearful departure from the club he has represented throughout the 17 years of his glittering professional career.
However on Monday journalists from AFP TV spotted him still at his home near Barcelona alongside his family as well as his friend and former teammate, Luis Suarez.
Following last week’s announcement by Barca that they could not afford to keep their all-time top goal-scorer, PSG emerged as the favourites to sign Messi, helped by the limitless funds of their Qatari owners.
They see him as the missing piece in their jigsaw as they chase the Champions League, the trophy they want more than anything else.
The club have been ready since Sunday to welcome Messi and French media reported on Monday that it was a matter of when, not if he arrives.
“It only seems to be a matter of hours,” suggested sports daily L’Equipe, which proclaimed “we are entering into the most incredible days in the history of the French championship.”
Before signing any contract in Paris, Messi will first have to undergo a medical examination.
The player conceded at his tearful farewell news conference in Barcelona on Sunday that joining PSG was a “possibility”.
In reality, with Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City having ruled themselves out, they are about the only club who can afford what is expected to be a deal worth 35 million euros ($41m) a year.
“I gave everything for Barcelona from the first day that I arrived right to the last. I never imagined having to say goodbye,” Messi said.
“I have still not come to terms with the reality of leaving this club now — I love this club.”
He leaves Barcelona with 672 goals in 778 appearances, a record tally for one club.
Messi won 35 trophies at the Camp Nou after joining Bara aged 13 and deserved a better farewell — his last appearance came in May’s 2-1 home defeat behind closed doors against Celta Vigo.
His trophy tally includes four Champions League and 10 La Liga titles.
“The greatest of all, you can surpass me whenever you want,” wrote Messi’s old Barcelona teammate Dani Alves — who won the 43rd honour of his career with Brazil at the Olympics — in an Instagram message on Monday.
On Monday morning, the images of the Argentinian in tears leapt out from the pages of all the Spanish sports dailies such as Marca, AS and Sport.
One group of Barcelona fans, represented by a Parisian lawyer, announced their intention to lodge a complaint with the European Commission in connection with the rules of financial fair play that Barcelona and PSG must follow.
Despite offering to cut his salary by half to seal a new five-year contract which a club carrying debts of 1.2 billion euros and the player had agreed on, the deal foundered on strict Spanish league salary cap rules.
Messi’s arrival would make PSG even more obvious favourites to reclaim a French title they missed out on last season to Lille.
Some in Ligue 1 have mixed feelings about the impending arrival of arguably the greatest player of all time.
“It’s extraordinary for Ligue 1,” said Metz coach Frederic Antonetti.
“But for a purist like me, Messi should have finished his career at Barcelona.”
This summer PSG have already added veteran Spanish defender Sergio Ramos from Real Madrid and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, the star of Euro 2020.
They have also signed Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, snatching the Dutchman from under the noses of Barcelona, and spent 60 million euros on Inter Milan right-back Achraf Hakimi, who scored on his league debut at the weekend.
An added attraction in moving to Paris is that coach Mauricio Pochettino, like Messi, started his career at Newell’s Old Boys in Rosario, Argentina.
All going to plan he could be unveiled to supporters on Saturday, when PSG play at home to Strasbourg and a full house of nearly 48,000 will be allowed in for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic struck 18 months ago.