Paris Saint-Germain’s relationship with Lionel Messi is set to end after two underwhelming years following the French champions’ decision to suspend the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner for going on an unauthorised trip to Saudi Arabia.
Greeted as a hero by adoring supporters when he arrived in Paris from Barcelona in August 2021, Messi was supposed to be the man to deliver PSG elusive Champions League success.
It has not worked out and some of those fans had recently turned against a player they see as a symbol of all the club have done wrong in focusing on superstar signings while failing to build a genuinely competitive team.
Having at one point looked set to secure Messi’s signature for another season, the Qatar-owned club briefed a month ago that the player was now “much more likely” to depart at the campaign’s end when his contract expires.
This week’s events are surely the final straw.
Messi, who will be 36 in June, played in PSG’s insipid 3-1 home defeat by Lorient in Ligue 1 on Sunday.
He then travelled to Saudi Arabia to fulfil commitments as part of a contract with the country’s tourist office.
As a result Messi missed a training session pencilled in for Monday following the weekend defeat.
PSG acted swiftly to punish Messi, despite his status as one of the sport’s greats.
He has been suspended even though PSG still need points to retain the French title with five matches left this season.
A source with knowledge of the disciplinary procedure told AFP that Argentina’s World-Cup winning captain would be sidelined for “several days”.
Various media in France reported he would be suspended for two weeks.
“He cannot train, cannot play, and will not be paid while disciplinary measures are in place,” the source added.
Hours later the Saudi tourist board issued a press release to celebrate Messi’s visit and detail his “jam-packed itinerary” which included feeding a herd of gazelles.
“Messi’s visit to Saudi was packed with exciting activities, with something for everyone in the family,” it said.
Meanwhile his teammates were back on the training ground in Paris after suffering a sixth defeat in 17 Ligue 1 matches in 2023.
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That Messi should miss training to fly instead to Saudi Arabia could be seen as especially embarrassing for PSG’s owners given recent frictions between Qatar and its Gulf neighbour.
Saudi Arabia imposed a diplomatic blockade on Qatar in 2017 along with the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain, although a reconciliation accord was sealed in January 2021 and the countries have since renewed relations.
The front page of Wednesday’s edition of French sports daily L’Equipe carried images of Messi and PSG’s Qatari president Nasser al-Khelaifi. “The Break-up” read the headline.
When Messi was unveiled by PSG, he said winning another Champions League title was his “dream” and that he thought he was in “the ideal place” to do it.
Yet it turns out that adding an ageing Messi to an attack already containing Kylian Mbappe and Neymar is not a recipe for European success.
With Messi, PSG have suffered consecutive exits from the Champions League in the last 16.
They did win Ligue 1 last season and are on course to do so again this year, even if they limp towards the finish line.
Messi scored just 11 goals in a difficult first season in Paris as he digested his departure from Barcelona.
He has contributed 20 in all competitions this season and is also the leading assist-provider in Ligue 1.
Messi has developed a good understanding with Mbappe but there have only been glimpses of him at his very best.
PSG’s chances of winning the Champions League will not be diminished by losing Messi, but it remains to be seen where the player himself goes next.
Barcelona have made no secret of their desire to bring him back, yet the Catalans’ ongoing financial issues cast doubt on their ability to make a deal happen.
There are no other obvious options available to Messi in Europe, meaning he may have to consider a move elsewhere.
MLS outfit Inter Miami, co-owned by David Beckham, have long been considered a possible destination for Messi.
Another is Saudi Arabia, where he could renew his rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo, who recently moved to Riyadh side Al Nassr.
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Messi shoots Inter Miami’s followers to 4.5m in 12hrs
Inter Miami’s official social media account experienced an extraordinary surge, from 2.1 to 4.5 million followers in 12 hours, more than doubling its follower count accumulated over the previous five years.
However, the impact of the ‘Lionel Messi effect’ extends beyond Inter Miami. The announcement of Messi joining the team sent shockwaves throughout Major League Soccer (MLS), signifying a potential game-changing moment for football in the United States and Canada.
The goat (greatest of all time) is coming,” MLS tweeted.
“Millions of MLS fans all over the world welcome you, Leo.”
Among those highly interested in Messi’s arrival in MLS was the league’s commissioner, Don Garber, who took to Twitter to stress that “This should be fun.”
According to Jim Curtin, head coach of the Philadelphia Union, it was likely the greatest day in MLS history.
“It’s the best player that the sport of soccer has ever had, in my opinion,” he noted.
LAFC’s Colombian defender, Jesus Murillo, expressed enthusiasm about facing Messi as an opponent, stating that as a player, he always wanted to compete against the best.
Meanwhile, LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo avoided answering questions about Messi’s arrival, humorously stating that he had many thoughts but preferred not to share them at the moment.
Atlanta United, who faced LAFC that night, posted an image on Instagram featuring Argentine player Thiago Almada alongside Messi and a World Cup trophy, symbolizing two world champions now in MLS.
Messi’s arrival received recognition beyond the football world as well. Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis
Antetokounmpo, who is a member of the ownership group of MLS’ Nashville SC, wrote, “Welcome to MLS Messi! See you in Nashville.”
Harry Maguire tops list of Man United players to be offloaded
Manchester United are set for a major clear-out this summer with defender Harry Maguire topping the list of players to be offloaded.
It is understood that both player and club would reach an agreement to part ways despite the England international having a contract that runs till 2025.
According to Italian journalist, Fabrizio Romano, United have a list of six players to be released as the club aim to shake up the squad ahead of the new season.
Aside Maguire, Wough Weghorst, Dean Henderson, Eric Bailly, Don Van De Beek and Alex Telles complete the list of the players the club considered surplus to requirements.
With the Red Devils back in the UEFA Champions League, strengthening the squad to challenge in Europe appears to be a priority for the Old Trafford board.
Guardiola commends Man City 4-0 victory over Real Madrid
Real Madrid Manager, Pep Guardiola on Wednesday said that Manchester City were perfectly prepared with the right mix of calmness and tension for their Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid.
The English champions dismantled the holders 4-0 with a ruthless display to secure a 5-1 aggregate win.
The result meant Manchester City secured a final berth against Inter Milan where they will bid to win European club soccer’s most prestigious trophy for the first time.
It was sweet revenge for a painful semi-final loss to Real Madrid 12 months ago.
“I had the feeling these last days that we had a mix of calm and tension to play these type of games.
“And after 10 or 15 minutes, I had the feeling that all the pain that we had, what happened last season . . . it was really tough, losing the way we lost and I think in the moment we had to swallow poison,” Guardiola told reporters.
Real Madrid knocked Manchester City out 12 months ago 6-5 on aggregate after an extraordinary late comeback.
“In sport, obviously you have another chance and when the draw was Madrid, I said, ‘Yeah, I want it’,” Guardiola said.
Bernardo Silva netted a first-half double to put City in control and, after Erling Haaland failed to convert two gilt-edge chances, Manuel Akanji and Julian Alvarez completed the rout.
Real Madrid arrived with history on their side as title-holders and record 14-times European champions.
But Manchester City, buoyed by an unbeaten 23-game run in all competitions, had not lost in 26 Champions League matches at the Etihad Stadium, which was a writhing sea of sky blue for the visit of the Spanish giants.
Manchester City had played the 2021 semi-final against Paris St Germain in Manchester with no fans in attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This time the players stayed on the pitch long after the final whistle to celebrate, with Haaland wearing a Norwegian flag draped around his shoulders.
“(Tonight was) much, much better,” Guardiola said. “I felt, I don’t know why, you smelled that the team was ready to compete at the level that they competed today.”
City are three wins away from a treble as they play Manchester United in the FA Cup final on June 3 and could win the Premier League as early as Saturday.
“We’re closer. This season is really really good, what we’ve really done already.
“The pleasure, the joy, how much we have fun this season again and again. We make happy our fans, all around the world watching us, they see a good team playing. This is the biggest compliment,” Guardiola said.
Guardiola added that the players, staff and families would gather for a team breakfast before enjoying a day off on Thursday ahead of their preparations for their final push to clinch the English League title.
Victory over Inter Milan in the Champions League final in Istanbul on June 10 would secure the one trophy Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour has craved since buying Manchester City in 2008.
Manchester City lost to Chelsea two years ago in their only previous appearance in the final.
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