Lionel Messi’s overwhelming impact on PSG made clear as new king of Paris makes his mark

Step off the Eurostar and he’ll be there at Gare du Nord awaiting you.

Head down to the Metro, jump on Line 5 towards Place d’Italie, switch over to Line 9 at Republique, and you’ll find him there too, larger than life.

Ride the 21 stops to Porte de Saint-Cloud and you can bank on seeing him at least once, during your journey.

Outside on the Rue du Commandant Guilbaud on a match day, you simply cannot escape him.

Whether it’s replica shirts, advertisements, billboards or on TV screens, in the north of the city or the south, six weeks after his arrival at Paris Saint-Germain, there is simply no getting away from Lionel Messi.

While his great rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, has wasted little time in making Manchester his once more, scoring goals and dominating the English agenda following his return to United, Messi’s new adventure in the French capital has been more staccato.

Barcelona’s all-time record goalscorer and greatest-ever player has struggled to make his mark on the pitch at his new club, largely due to fitness and injury issues. Ahead of PSG’s Champions League showdown with Manchester City, he is yet to complete 90 minutes, yet to score a goal, yet to make an assist.

But there’s no doubt that, in spite of those difficulties, the 34-year-old’s presence is already being felt.

The monarchy is long gone, but Paris has wasted little time in anointing the Argentine as its new king.

Lionel Messi, arriving at the Parc des Princes, ahead of PSG vs Lyon, his first home game
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AFP via Getty Images)

In the megastore housed inside the multi-purpose Jean-Bouin Stadium, across the street from the Parc des Princes, Messi is unavoidable.

In fairness, so too are Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, club captain Marquinhos and Euro 2020 winner Marco Verratti. Their names and likenesses are used to help sell a plethora of PSG branded products, from teddy bears to mugs, SoccerStarz collectibles (the little men with the giant heads) to streetwear.

There are also Renault-branded toy cars; Mauro Icardi is, like Verratti, a Renault Twingo, while Mbappe is a Megane R.S Turbo, befitting for a Frenchman with his acceleration.

There are also PSG branded car seat covers, car mats, playing cards, keyring and phone cases. You can purchase a PSG limited fly fishing box for a cool €225 if you wish, or a limited edition PSG Bearbrick if that’s your bag; it’s hard to imagine that any members of the Virage Auteuil – one of the club’s Ultras groups – have purchased one of the 200 Japanese creations.

Bearbrick – On sale in the PSG club shop outside the Parc des Princes
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Of course, there are the replica shirts also. Shirt sales won’t pay his mega-money salary, but they have increased over 30 percent this season thus far compared to recent years, thanks to the Messi effect.

Grégoire Kopp, creator of GRK Impact & Communications, a management agency, told RMC in August: “Lionel Messi was directly and indirectly responsible for 30 percent of Barca’s income. It’s very consistent. He opens up new markets.”

In the megastore, it is Messi ’30’, costing just under €140, that supporters want, especially those visiting for the first time who, previously, had no affinity with Les Parisiens. They are here, now, to see the Argentine in the flesh.

“I came for Messi,” says Timothee, who has made the 500km trip from Strasbourg, a fan of neither PSG or that day’s opponents, Lyon. “I have been to Barcelona before, but now he’s here, I have to see him again. He’s the best in the world.”

Certainly it appears the Messi shirt is most popular. Spend 5-10 minutes near the checkout in the hours before kickoff, and it is his shirt which is clearly most popular.

Ask those working in the store however, and theirs is a rather different answer.

“It is popular no doubt – but so is Neymar, Mbappe,” one clerk says. “They are all selling well, pretty evenly,” he states, with a weak smile that tells a different story.

Supporters pose with jerseys of PSG’s Lionel Messi at the store on the Champs Elysees
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AFP via Getty Images)

Since Messi’s arrival, PSG have used their alignment with the six-time Ballon d’Or winner – not to mention the 25million extra social media followers that arrived with him – to re-evaluate and reconsider their commercial efforts.

They have signed a three-year deal with Crypto.com, one of the world’s leading cryptocurrency platform, worth around £21million annually.

“Our mission since day one has been to accelerate the world’s transition to cryptocurrency, » says co-founder and CEO Kris Marszalek. « We do so by finding the best partners in the world, and Paris Saint-Germain is second to none. »

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Hugo Boss has also been replaced as the club’s tailor, with Christian Dior taking over on a two-year deal at a higher rate; Messi’s arrival in Paris, combined with a shift by luxury labels at Dior-owner LVMH to embrace streetwear and link it to high-fashion – with an eye to younger consumers – was something of a perfect storm.

Other sponsors have, in many cases, had to renegotiate their contracts at a higher starting point, as French daily L’Equipe has reported. PSG, who are paying Messi £29million per year, plus bonuses, and handed over a £22million signing on fee are leaving no stone unturned in making his presence, and the financials, work for their brand.

Because while Messi was signed for football, to produce those moments of magic of which only he is capable and which will enthral both the Parc’s proletariat and its bourgeoisie, to finally end the club’s Champions League obsession, he was also signed to further enhance the most brand aware investment vehicle in world sport.

Lionel Messi watches PSG’s win over Montpellier
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When Qatar Sports Investment (QSI), a subsidiary of the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the state-run sovereign-wealth fund in Qatar bought the club in 2011, they paid £60million for the privilege.

“In the coming years, we will work to make PSG a great team and a strong brand on the international scene, which will make the fans proud,” the club’s president, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, explained.

“Paris is the number one tourist destination in the world,” said Al Khelaïfi at the time. “It’s the city of fashion, gastronomy, arts and great museums. And yet Paris has only one club, while most major capitals like Madrid or London have at least two.

“We see this as an opportunity to create a great club of international stature.”

Certainly, that aim has been achieved.

Over the past decade, PSG have become a European powerhouse, its transformation undeniable.

PSG stars celebrate in front of the Virage Auteuil
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CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

What started with modernising the club’s logo – making the Eiffel Tower more prevalent – and playing into the fact that, ‘hey, we’re in Paris!’, has led to the club being valued at over £2.5billion. That value, according to Forbes, has risen over 200 percent in the past five years.

Ultimately, it’s that growth, via the guiding hand of QSI and PSG president Al-Khelaifi – who has enjoyed his own similarly remarkable rise to prominence, wearing many hats as chairman of beIN media group, a UEFA executive committee member and notably becoming the new chairman of the European Club Association following this year’s failed Super League coup – which made Messi possible.

Since QSI pitched up in Paris 10 years ago, looking to use the football club and sport in general to help change the narrative around the wealthy Arab state, while building soft-power ties and visibility – having controversially been awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup the previous year – star names have been purchased to shine on the field and promote Qatar off it. That has helped with the country’s development, if not its politics or answering awkward questions about unexplained migrant worker deaths.

But, even the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, Thiago Silva, Mbappe and Neymar – whose world record defection from Barcelona in 2017 sent reverberations around world football still being felt today and which, indirectly, led Messi to Paris – cannot rival Messi. He is just on a completely different level.

Lionel Messi sign his two year contract with Paris Saint-Germain President Nasser Al Khelaifi
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When Barcelona confirmed that their dismal financial mismanagement had meant they would not be able to re-sign Messi this season and his 21-year career in Catalunya was over, it was inevitable that he would end up at one of Europe’s state-owned clubs.

He had wanted to reunite with Pep Guardiola at City in 2020, but ultimately stayed put. This time around, after rapid-fire talks between PSG chiefs and his father, Jorge, as well as between Leo and close pal Neymar, he elected to start afresh in Paris. Neymar offered his No.10 shirt up, but was refused, with Messi taking the No.30.

Unsurprisingly, social media was immediately awash with those critical of his move to the “Farmers League”. In stark contrast, chairmen of rival Ligue 1 clubs were delighted with his arrival. Vincent Labrune, president of the LFP, labelled it a “historic day”.

Achraf Hakimi, the £60million summer signing from Inter Milan, said: « For Messi to leave Barca, like everyone else, I didn’t expect it. And when I heard you were coming here, what can I say? A dream for me! »

Neymar played a key role in Messi’s move to Paris
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After touching down and being handed a rapturous reception by supporters, he and his family have since made the Royal Monceau hotel their place of residence while hunting for a more permanent home. It’s understood Angel Di Maria, Messi’s long-time friend, now first time club teammate, has been attempting to persuade him to head to Neuilly-sur-Seine, one of Paris’ affluent western suburbs.

“My goal and my dream is to win the Champions League once more,” he proclaimed at his unveiling. “I think Paris is the best place to do so. I think that we have the team to do it here.”

Nothing else this term, not even reclaiming the Ligue 1 title after last season’s faux pas – despite that it would be a first league crown for Mauricio Pochettino – nor sweeping the domestic honours, will be enough.

With Sergio Ramos – his long-time nemesis at Real Madrid but fast becoming a close confidante in their new dressing room – Gini Wijnaldum, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Hakimi all having also joined this summer, PSG have its most talented squad ever and simply must finally put its European Cup obsession to an end and win the trophy.

To do so in May, six months before Qatar hosts next year’s World Cup, would certainly be ideal for those at the very top.

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But it is far easier said than done, as Messi – who won the competition for the fourth and, so far, final time in 2015 can attest.

PSG reached the final in 2020 – falling to Bayern Munich in the final – but lost in last year’s semi-final, beaten by City in the semi-final when they were shorn of the injured Mbappe.

And while, they are perfect in Ligue 1 thus far, even in spite of Messi’s injury issues, it’s clear there is work to be done if his side are to challenge for the trophy.

In the 1-1 draw with Club Brugge on UCL matchday one, and in the comeback win over Lyon, Messi, Neymar and Mbappe all started together. In the former, Messi operate from the right side of attack, in the latter as a bona-fide No.10.

In both, there were moments of brilliance. Against OL, his 30-yard free kick that rattled the crossbar, drew gasps of incredulity from the most elite of VIP’s in the Champs-Elysées Club in the Tribune Borelli.

But at a time when Bondy-born Mbappe – whose contract expires next summer and is refusing to sign a new deal – is being booed by supporters before games and is complaining about Neymar, there are issues over an unbalanced lineup and an all-star fantasy attack that is not yet fully coherent.

Messi’s snub of Pochettino made headlines
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Messi snubbing Pochettino when being substituted didn’t help matters, his dismissal of his compatriot seeing a member of the Qatari royal family take aim at the ex-Spurs boss on social media – even if Messi’s subsequent MRI results proved a knee injury and Pochettino correct.

“We need to create those automatic movements over time and with training,” said the PSG boss post-game, and he is confident that he can solve the issues as the season moves along. “We need to get together not only to train, but also to play. There are questions of position, complicity and organisation of play that take time to adapt to.

« We’re at a point where we have to combine the talent of Kylian Mbappe, for example, with the relationship between Messi and [Angel] Di Maria or Messi and Neymar, who already know each other. But we’re really happy with how we’re progressing.”

The reunion with Guardiola and City – fresh from a stylish win over Chelsea – will offer as stern a test as possible at this stage of the competition. Any gaps PSG leave, and there have been plenty in recent games, will be ruthlessly exploited.

Ultimately, it won’t tell us whether PSG are likely winners, as it is simply too early to do so, but will allow the Parisian horde another viewing of its newest icon, while providing the PSG brand the opportunity to produce more Messi content.

Paris Saint-Germain’s Lionel Messi greets the fans
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CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Outside the Parc des Princes, graffiti showing Zlatan Ibrahimovic
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Alex Richards)

Before the game, Messi and co will arrive on the north side of the Parc des Princes, to the cheers and adulation of the waiting masses.

Just along the Rue Claude Farrere stands a ‘wall of legends’, a graffiti street art collection paying tribute to club icons of yesteryear.

The likes of George Weah, David Ginola, Rai, Safet Susic and Ronaldinho are all immortalised, alongside other greats. Only one from the QSI era is included: Zlatan.

Should Messi lead PSG to Champions League glory, there is no question that he will find himself similarly exalted. Both in Paris and Doha.

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