PARIS — When Lionel Messi said goodbye to Barcelona, his home since childhood and the place he grew to become one of soccer’s greatest ever players, he was in tears.
Three days later, when he was formally introduced on Wednesday by his new club, Paris St.-Germain, any tears in the crowd were expressions of joy.
And Messi, carrying his new jersey, traded the heavy emotions for a light smile.
“I still want to play and I still want to win,” he said at a news conference on Wednesday, sitting next to P.S.G.’s president, Nasser al-Khelaifi. Leaving Barcelona was “a very hard moment,” he said, but he added that he was “very happy” to be in Paris.
“I want to keep growing and keep winning titles.”
Messi’s signing with P.S.G. on Tuesday represented the most significant — if unsurprising — move in recent soccer history, one that countless fans, both in France and Spain, were still struggling to fathom even as Messi walked on the field at the Parc des Princes, P.S.G.’s stadium and his new home.
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The move will reinforce P.S.G.’s dominance over France’s domestic league, Ligue 1, which has struggled to attract attention in recent years. And it will make the club the overwhelming favorite for the Champions League, the only trophy that matters to its Qatari backers, one that it has never held and that its president dreams of winning before Qatar hosts the World Cup in December 2022.
“We haven’t won anything,” al-Khelaifi said, ignoring the seven Ligue 1 titles the club has claimed in the last nine seasons. “This is just the start.”
Messi, speaking alongside Paris St.-Germain’s president, Nasser al-Khelaifi, said leaving Barcelona was “a very hard moment,” but that he was “very happy” to join P.S.G.
Messi, speaking alongside Paris St.-Germain’s president, Nasser al-Khelaifi, said leaving Barcelona was “a very hard moment,” but that he was “very happy” to join P.S.G.Credit…Stephane De Sakutin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Outside the stadium, fans chanted and threw smoke bombs as they waited to catch a glimpse of the Argentine star.
“It’s wonderful,” said Alexandre Marienne, 32, carrying his 8-year-old son, Kamil, on his shoulders. “He’s going to help us build something incredible — Paris is definitely competing with the big names now.”
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It was the culmination of a stunning few days, in which Barcelona’s fans and players bid farewell in shock to the club’s greatest player, while in the French capital, P.S.G.’s fans held their breaths.
Before flying to Paris, Messi had repeated that he didn’t want to leave the club that made him who he is, that he had done “everything to stay” in Barcelona. His devoted fans wanted him to stay, too. The club wanted him to stay. On Wednesday, Messi said it would be weird to go back to his home with a different jersey if he were to play against his former club.
But the financial forces that drive the game were greater than either individual or collective desire. Barcelona could not afford Messi, even after he offered to cut his salary in half.
So here he was, in Paris, about to play in the French Ligue 1, where financial rules akin to those that tied Barcelona’s hands will not come into force for a few more years.
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“The moment I arrived here, I felt very happy,” Messi said at the news conference before greeting the fans outside. He is joining a roster full of stars already, one that fans — until now — could only dream of assembling in a video game. This summer, P.S.G. added to its squad the Italian goalkeeper and recent European Championship winner Gianluigi Donnarumma, the Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and the Spanish defender Sergio Ramos — all free agents, like Messi.
Yet seeing Messi with other colors than Barcelona’s, something unthinkable until last week, remained an oddity even as he threaded the field of the Parc des Princes on Wednesday. He will don No. 30, which he had at Barcelona from 2004 to 2006. Neymar, the Brazilian who has been P.S.G.’s biggest international name until now, will keep No. 10.