It says a lot about the state of modern football that Paris Saint-Germain’s move for Lionel Messi —the best player in the world and, quite possibly, of all time — could be seen as both the latest signpost of the sport’s grotesque inequality and as an absolute bargain for the club.
As a teary-eyed Messi explained at his farewell press conference last week, staying at Barcelona – his boyhood club of 21 years – was impossible, despite volunteering a 50 per cent pay cut. Even if he played for free, the financially-troubled Blaugrana simply could not register his new contract under the Spanish La Liga’s new regulations.
PSG now have their man – one who they have been tracking for some time, and whose signature franks their ascension into football’s elite.
Early on Wednesday morning (AEST), the 34-year-old was finally unveiled through their social channels, and as the numbers associated with the deal began to filter through, it was enough to make a football purist’s eyes water, brain melt and heart drop.
Messi’s new contract is reportedly worth £53.8 million ($101m) per season over two years, with an option for third. If that sounds like a lot, consider the fact that it’s actually a downgrade for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner.
According to his last contract at Barca – the details of which were leaked by Spanish newspaper El Mundo – Messi was previously on €138m ($220m) per season, making him the world’s second-highest paid athlete in 2021 according to Forbes.
Lionel Messi was unveiled as a Paris-Saint Germain player, set to earn in excess of $100 million a season on Wednesday.Credit:Getty
This was technically a free transfer for PSG because Messi was a free agent after his old deal – which contained a €700m ($1.1b) buyout clause – had expired. But the French club has also reportedly paid him a sign-on fee of €30m ($47m), enough to dwarf most transfer fees in football.
These are the sort of numbers that after years upon years of undisciplined and unregulated spending are threatening to send Barcelona broke, and which an increasingly small number of clubs – backed by either oligarchs or nation-states – can afford to even contemplate.
And yet, it’s entirely conceivable that PSG will make their all money back, and then some.
According to one analysis by Spanish company Diagonal Investments, Messi was solely responsible for 30 per cent of Barcelona’s revenue, and over the four-year term of his last contract, brought in €235.6m ($376m) more than he cost them. In other words: his unique, freakish skills on the field helped multiply sales of replica shirts, tickets, sponsorships and broadcast deals like no other player could, Cristiano Ronaldo aside.
An image of Lionel Messi is removed from Camp Nou, Barcelona’s home stadium, after his move to Paris was confirmed.Credit:Getty
A separate study, by Brand Finance, estimates that his exit will inflict an 11 per cent loss in ‘brand value’ on Barcelona and knock €137m ($218.6m) off its overall valuation.
It’s now PSG who will benefit from the Messi halo effect – along with their owners, Qatar Sports Investments, an investment vehicle funded by the Qatari government, which will surely use their new trophy signing as an ambassador for the still-controversial 2022 World Cup.
Messi will join former Barca teammate Neymar and French superstar Kylian Mbappe in an inconceivably brilliant front three. Behind them will be Italy’s Euros hero Gianluigi Donnarumma, Spanish legend Sergio Ramos, former Inter Milan defender Achraf Hakimi, and ex-Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum – all of whom have also arrived in this transfer window, also on obscene wages.
They look odds-on to challenge for the UEFA Champions League. Their jerseys, manufactured by Nike’s Jordan brand, will become the most sought-after pieces of merchandise in world sport – especially Messi’s 30, the number which he wore in his formative days at Barcelona and will wear again in Paris.
Despite his advancing age, there is no evidence Messi’s on-field magic is fading. But the magic of club football itself? That’s up for debate.
Four months ago, the spectre of the European Super League threatened to obliterate the sport’s traditional structures. PSG kept their distance from that highly contentious project. Is this their alternative?
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