Paris (AFP) – Lionel Messi arrived at Barcelona airport on Tuesday, set to board a flight to the French capital as Paris Saint-Germain look to complete the signing of the Argentinian superstar.
The 34-year-old was accompanied by his wife and three children as he entered El Prat airport just before 1:30 pm (1130 GMT).
His father Jorge, who is also his representative, arrived a short while earlier.
PSG have spent the last few days trying to finalise an agreement to sign Messi following his departure from Barcelona, the club he has represented for the entirety of his 17-year professional career so far.
The French side’s supporters began gathering on Monday outside the club’s Parc des Princes home and at Le Bourget airport to the north of the city hoping to catch a glimpse of Messi.
Meanwhile the front page headline in French sports daily L’Equipe on Tuesday hinted at the mood in Paris. “Growing restless”, it said, while inside it spoke of “the longest hours” as fans waited an announcement.
Reports in Spain during the night talked of a “final offer” by Barcelona to try to keep the player at the club.
Instead, the mooted move to Paris is on the verge of being completed as Qatar-owned PSG prepare to add the six-time Ballon d’Or winner to an attack already featuring Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
PSG see Messi as the missing piece in their jigsaw as they chase the Champions League, the trophy they want more than anything else.
Off the field, talk of his move had added 1.2 million followers to PSG’s social media accounts since Friday.
“I am happy if he arrives in Paris,” new PSG goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma told Sky Sports Italia on Monday outside his Parisian hotel.
“He is the strongest in the world, I am excited and happy at the thought of having him in the team.”
– Coming to terms –
Messi conceded at a tearful farewell news conference in Barcelona on Sunday that joining PSG was only a “possibility”.
In reality, with Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City having ruled themselves out, PSG were about the only club who could afford what is expected to be a deal worth 35 million euros ($41 million) a year.
“I gave everything for Barcelona from the first day that I arrived right to the last. I never imagined having to say goodbye,” Messi said.
“I have still not come to terms with the reality of leaving this club now — I love this club.”
He leaves Barcelona with 672 goals in 778 appearances, a record tally for one club.
Messi won 35 trophies at the Camp Nou after joining Barca aged 13, but his last appearance was a damp squib: a 2-1 home defeat behind closed doors against Celta Vigo in May.
His trophy haul includes four Champions League and 10 La Liga titles.
“The greatest of all,” wrote Messi’s old Barcelona teammate Dani Alves — who won the Olympic gold with Brazil in Tokyo– in an Instagram message on Monday.
One group of Barcelona fans, represented by a Parisian lawyer, announced their intention to lodge a complaint with the European Commission in connection with the rules of financial fair play that Barcelona and PSG must follow.
– ‘Extraordinary for Ligue 1’ –
Despite offering to cut his salary by half to seal a new five-year contract which the club carrying debts of 1.2 billion euros and the player had agreed on, the deal foundered on strict Spanish league salary cap rules.
Messi’s arrival would make PSG even more obvious favourites to reclaim a French title they missed out on last season to Lille.
Some in Ligue 1 have mixed feelings about the impending arrival of arguably the greatest player of all time.
“It’s extraordinary for Ligue 1,” said Metz coach Frederic Antonetti.
“But for a purist like me, Messi should have finished his career at Barcelona.”
This summer PSG have already added veteran Spanish defender Sergio Ramos from Real Madrid and Italy’s Donnarumma, the star of Euro 2020.
They have also signed Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, snatching the Dutchman from under the noses of Barcelona, and spent 60 million euros on Inter Milan right-back Achraf Hakimi, who scored on his PSG league debut at the weekend.
An added attraction in moving to Paris is that coach Mauricio Pochettino, like Messi, started his career at Newell’s Old Boys in Rosario, Argentina.
All going to plan, Messi could be unveiled to supporters on Saturday, when PSG host Strasbourg and a full house of nearly 48,000 will be allowed in for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic struck 18 months ago.
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