PSG close in on Messi as superstar prepares to break silence

Paris (AFP) – As Lionel Messi prepared to say farewell to Barcelona in a club press conference on Sunday, French fans and media alike were salivating over the impact the superstar’s mooted arrival at Paris Saint-Germain would have on the club and the French league.

The 34-year-old will take questions from the press at noon (1000 GMT) on Sunday, Barcelona said in a statement. They will be his first public comments since his departure was announced.

Messi has been expected to stay in Barcelona at a much reduced salary but club president Joan Laporta said on Friday he was not prepared “to put the club at risk” by renewing Messi’s contract, as the club face up to huge financial problems.

Many at the club are struggling to accept the sweet sorrow of parting with a 34 year old who has been with the club since he signed a contract on a napkin at the age of 13.

“Still hard to understand that you will not play for @FCBarcelona anymore,” tweeted manager Ronald Koeman, the man whose goal won Barca their first European crown in 1992.

“Thanks for everything you have done for our club Leo. I really enjoyed the full season we worked together. I am impressed with your work ethic and desire to win.”

With Manchester City coach and former Messi mentor, Pep Guardiola, saying the Premier League champions are not in the market, that left Qatari-backed PSG as the only suitors with deep enough pockets — in Spain he was reportedly pocketing north of 70 million euros a year net.

Barcelona based Sport daily insisted on Saturday that “for the moment, Messi has no offer from any club.”

Yet Laporta indicated on Friday that Messi “has other offers and there is a time limit because La Liga starts soon and he needs time to assess his other options.”

In 17 years in Barcelona, Messi lifted the Champions Leagues four times, and PSG are desperate for the final piece to take them to that honour.

– ‘Marriage of love and reason’ –

Former Barcelona teammate, Brazilian Neymar, has made no secret of his desire for a reunion.

An added attraction could be that PSG are coached by Mauricio Pochettino, who like Messi started his career at Newells Old Boys in Rosario, Argentina. 

“Messi to Paris, it’s yes,” read a headline in Le Parisien which described the sealing of a “marriage of love and reason”.

Sports daily L’Equipe reported Messi will receive a three-year “record contract” with “a net annual wage of 40 million euros” — but it appears nothing has been signed.

Other French clubs welcomed the idea of Messi lighting up Ligue 1.

“It would be good for the French championship. He’s the best in the world,” said Monaco coach Niko Kovac on Friday.

Former PSG coach Antoine Kombouare, now in charge of Nantes, said “it would be a huge coup for the league. For PSG too.”

But he said he believed the story still was based on “rumours.”

Le Parisien reported that Messi’s father and representative Jorge had reached out to PSG after it became clear the player would not be staying in Catalonia.

“Our president is looking at ways of improving the team,” was all Pochettino would say on the issue.

– Numbers point to exit –

Messi originally reached agreement with Barcelona to sign a five-year contract worth 50 percent less per year.

But La Liga’s financial fair play rules, which are expected to reduce the amount Barca can spend on salaries this season by some 200 million euros ($235 million), led Laporta to conclude they were unable to complete the deal.

“We could not accommodate Messi’s contract,” said Laporta, who re-gained as club president in March and who said Friday he would not “mortgage” the club for anybody. 

“The situation we have inherited is abominable and the sports salary bill represents 110 per cent of the club’s income.

“La Liga’s rules set limitations and we have no margin. We have known the situation since we arrived but the numbers we have seen are even worse than we thought.”

Barcelona have total debts of almost 1.2 billion euros, with more than half of that needing to be repaid in the short term. 

“Leo wanted to stay and he’s not happy,” Laporta admitted Friday of a player who has broken a slew of records in his 17 years at the club, not least netting 672 goals to earn what Laporta termed the club’s “eternal gratitude.”

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