By Samindra Kunti in Reims
August 29 – On Sunday, Lionel Messi took his first steps in the shirt of Paris Saint-Germain, but it was Kylian Mbappe who stole the show with a brace in a 2-0 victory over Reims.
For 66 minutes, there was a crackle in the air in the Champagne capital in anticipation of the arrival of the legendary Argentinean. Everyone wanted to see a sight that had previously been considered impossible: the greatest football player in the world in colours that weren’t FC Barcelona’s. After he came off the bench midway through the second half, the locals serenaded Messi at his every twist and turn.
Yet, almost on cue, Mbappe scored his second of the night. It barely went noticed, but also highlighted the importance of the Frenchman to his team. Whenever in possession, his speed, athleticism and presence allowed PSG’s other players space and room. His attitude didn’t suggest he was on the verge of moving to the Spanish capital.
But whatever Mbappe did, was irrelevant. Messi-mania struck with a media frenzy and an exposure that Ligue 1 had hitherto not achieved. Messi’s arrival eclipsed Qatar Sports Investments acquiring the capital club in 2011, a move entangled in geopolitics and soft power. This was even bigger than attaching Neymar’s name, histrionics and marvelous talent to PSG with a world record transfer fee of €222 million in 2017, an extravagant sum tailored to squeeze the market.
And yet, can Messi’s arrival, the ultimate step-up for Ligue 1, truly help a league that has been decimated by the collapse of the Mediapro broadcast deal and the global health crisis?
Qatari-owned PSG enjoy robust finances, and the Argentinean’s commercial impact on the club and the league should not be overestimated. But the boost Messi will provide merchandise and ticket sales, and a social media boom, will not offset the more structural problems across France’s domestic football landscape.
On Sunday, it all didn’t seem to matter. Reims, PSG and Ligue 1 revelled in Messi’s presence. He is French football’s new king.
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