Lionel Messi arrives in Paris on Tuesday
Lionel Messi arrives in Paris on Tuesday. ‘I am excited to begin a new chapter of my career at Paris Saint-Germain’ © Francois Mori/AP

Football star Lionel Messi has signed for French club Paris Saint-Germain after his shock departure from FC Barcelona.

Qatari-owned PSG said on Tuesday evening that Messi had signed a two-year contract with the option of a third season. The club will hold a news conference on Wednesday morning. The signing came just days after Messi bid a tearful farewell to his former club.

“I am excited to begin a new chapter of my career at Paris Saint-Germain,” PSG quoted Messi as saying. “I am determined to help build something special for the club and the fans, and I am looking forward to stepping out on to the pitch at the Parc des Princes.”

Messi, 34, is entering the final years of his playing career but is still widely considered to be among the best, if not the best, footballer in the world. Although Barcelona finished third in La Liga last season, the club’s worst showing since 2008, Messi was still the division’s top scorer with 30 goals in 35 matches.

He is one of few players capable of strengthening PSG’s array of attacking talent, which includes France star Kylian Mbappé and former Barcelona teammate Neymar.

Messi had played for Barcelona since leaving his home country to join the Catalan club at the age of 13. During his time there, they won the Spanish league 10 times and the Uefa Champions League, the most prestigious club tournament in Europe, on four occasions.

Paris Saint-Germain supporters wait for Lionel Messi to arrive at Le Bourget airport
Paris Saint-Germain supporters wait for Lionel Messi to arrive at Le Bourget airport, north of Paris, on Tuesday © Francois Mori/AP

The pressure will be on Messi to win the Champions League for PSG, which has never won the elite competition. The club lost in the final to Germany’s Bayern Munich in 2020.

His preference had been to remain with Barcelona but his former club’s financial predicament led officials to decide that they could no longer afford his talents. Along the way, Barcelona received the €222m record transfer fee PSG paid to sign Neymar four years ago. Barcelona’s losses soared to almost €500m in the 2020-21 season.

Messi, who earned €555m between 2017 and 2021, according to extracts from his contract published by Spanish newspaper El Mundo, had offered to take a pay cut to remain at the club.

Barcelona was well in breach of Spanish league rules requiring clubs to cap salaries at 70 per cent of revenue. Similar rules in France’s Ligue 1 have been relaxed until 2023-24 because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has devastated French football, already the smallest of Europe’s big five leagues in terms of revenue, according to professional services firm Deloitte.

Uefa, European football’s governing body, last year adopted emergency measures to relax its so-called Financial Fair Play regime, allowing clubs more time to “quantify and account for unanticipated loss of revenues” and make adjustments for break-even calculations.

Unlike Barcelona, PSG did not support the European Super League, a failed breakaway competition opposed by fans, politicians and football administrators including Uefa.

PSG is also under financial pressure, having made a net loss of €124m in the 2019-20 season as the first wave of the pandemic swept through Europe, according to the French league’s financial regulation authority.

Total revenues across Ligue 1 clubs fell 16 per cent to €1.6bn that season, according to Deloitte. The French league was forced to end the 2019-20 season early because of Covid, whereas rival leagues rescheduled matches. It suffered a further blow when its broadcast deal with Mediapro collapsed.

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