Six-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi received a hero’s welcome after flying to France on Tuesday to join Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) following his shock departure from FC Barcelona.
The agreement to sign the 34-year-old Argentine is a major coup for wealthy PSG.
They will be adding one of the best football players of all time to an already formidable front line that includes Brazil’s Neymar and young Frenchman Kylian Mbappe.
Wearing a T-shirt that read “This is Paris”, Messi beamed and waved at scores of fans who had come to greet him at Le Bourget airport on the outskirts of the French capital after his flight from Barcelona.
Chanting “Messi, Messi, Messi”, the fans cheered and let off firecrackers.
“It’s going to be mad. After all, it’s a legend who is arriving,” said Florent Chauveau, a PSG fan who has been back and forth to the airport every day since Sunday in the hope of seeing Messi arrive.
Messi gave no details of the deal, which was reached days after FC Barcelona said it could not afford to keep the midfielder because of Spain’s La Liga’s fair play rules.
But his father, speaking with reporters at Barcelona’s airport, confirmed reports by French newspaper L’Equipe and Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo that Messi had reached an agreement with PSG.
The Parisian club is owned by Qatar Sports Investment.
L’Equipe said the deal would be for two years.
It also said Messi would have medical tests on Tuesday, and that a news conference to mark his arrival was likely on Wednesday.
PSG did not comment on the reports but released a short video showing scenes of Paris, a plane landing and a close-up of someone putting pen to paper.
In the background, upbeat music can heard and the words “new diamond in Paris” and “mercato update” appear.
The video, seen on Twitter, does not show Messi but depicts an image of six Ballons d’Or — an annual award given to the player deemed the best in the world — by the Eiffel Tower.
Many FC Barcelona fans were distraught at the end of Messi’s glittering, trophy-laden career at the club he joined as a schoolboy.
But the arrival of FC Barcelona’s all-time record scorer with 682 goals will boost PSG’s ambitions to win the UEFA Champions League for the first time.
Messi won four UEFA Champions League titles while at FC Barcelona, as well as 10 La Liga titles.
Messi is the latest big-name arrival at PSG on a free transfer this summer after coach Mauricio Pochettino’s side snapped up Spanish defender Sergio Ramos after he left Real Madrid.
Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum also joined after running down his contract with Liverpool.
Italy’s Euro 2020-winning goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma has also joined after his contract with AC Milan ran out.
Also, Moroccan full-back Achraf Hakimi joined from Inter Milan for a reported 60 million euros (70 million dollars).
Messi’s last contract with FC Barcelona was worth a total of 555 million euros and reported to be the most lucrative in the world of sports.
His arrival in Paris is also set to provoke a renewed new debate about UEFA’s financial fair play rules.
The rules were first introduced in 2009 to restrict some of the worst excesses of the game, but they have been criticised by some leading figures for being ineffective.
The arrival of Messi, who has 245 million followers on Instagram and is FC Barcelona’s most decorated player of all time, is also welcome news for France’s Ligue 1, embroiled in a crisis over TV rights.(Reuters/NAN)