Paris St.-Germain, the French soccer powerhouse bankrolled by the state of Qatar, has agreed to a two-year contract with Lionel Messi.
The agreement, which comes days after Messi bid a tearful farewell to F.C. Barcelona, the club where he had spent his entire professional career, concluded a brief and exclusive bidding war for Messi and reunited him with his former Barcelona teammate Neymar on one of the most expensive and talented attacking teams in soccer history.
The deal also highlighted how Gulf riches have so altered modern soccer’s economics that even some of the world’s biggest, richest and best-supported teams are now no match for state-sponsored teams in the arms race to acquire the most elite players.
Messi’s signing was confirmed by a team official with knowledge of the agreement and in a video posted to the club’s social media account.
Messi flew from Barcelona to Paris-Le Bourget airport on Tuesday afternoon, emerging to wave to the fans who had gathered there to welcome him while wearing a shirt with the P.S.G. slogan “Ici C’est Paris.”
P.S.G. has called a news conference for Wednesday morning to introduce Messi.
Messi’s new contract is for two years plus a third option year, according to the official. It will pay him about $35 million a season, an enormous amount but only a fraction of what he was earning at Barcelona.
Almost from the moment F.C. Barcelona announced last week that financial obstacles meant the club and Messi would not be able to continue their trophy-laden, two-decade association, Messi’s destination was in many ways a question of which of two Gulf-royalty-backed teams he would choose.
Would it be Manchester City, owned by a brother of the ruler of the United Arab Emirates, one of the few clubs willing and able to spend freely in the era of the coronavirus pandemic? Or would it be P.S.G., the star-laden French champion financed by Qatar, a club that, like City, appears immune from a financial crisis that has shaken the global soccer economy?
City tried to sign Messi a year ago, when he first suggested he might leave Barcelona, the only professional team he has played for, but he later recommitted to the Spanish club even as he criticized the way it was being run.
A free agent after his contract expired in June, Messi had been unable to close a new deal with Barcelona because of a financial crisis that meant the numbers simply could not add up.
To re-sign Messi, the greatest player in club history, Barcelona would have had to shed more than $200 million from its payroll to meet stringent requirements set by the Spanish league. It could not. Certainly not in a way that, according to Barcelona’s new president, Joan Laporta, would not imperil the future of a club mired in debt and expecting losses of almost 500 million euros in the next year.
In a news conference on Sunday, Messi broke down in tears as he confirmed what the club had announced last week: that Barcelona’s current financial crisis and the Spanish league’s cost-control rules made it impossible for him to sign a new contract. Yet even as he said goodbye, Messi seemed to be trying to soften the blow of his departure, for fans, for the club and also, it appeared, for himself.
“I did everything I could,” Messi said. “From my side, I did everything to stay. That is what I wanted.”
But a player reportedly earning about $132 million a year in salary and bonuses cannot move just anywhere.
He may be 34, but Messi’s performance levels appear to be undimmed by age. Just this summer, he was the player of the tournament, the top scorer and the assists leader as he led Argentina to the Copa América, its first national team title in almost three decades.
P.S.G. will add him to an attack that includes two of the best forwards in the game — Kylian Mbappé, the jet-heeled French star, and Neymar, the Brazilian who was once Messi’s teammate at Barcelona.
With Messi in its star-studded ranks — and even if Mbappé is sold, possibly to Real Madrid, to recoup some of the cost — P.S.G. will once again take aim at the Champions League, the biggest prize in club soccer but a tournament that, despite P.S.G.’s billions of dollars in spending, it has failed to win. Messi has won the competition four times with Barcelona.
Unlike Barcelona, though, P.S.G. is still trying to write its history. And it is doing that by spending money. A lot of money.
It signed Mbappé and Neymar for the highest fees in soccer history and then surrounded them with even more high-priced and high-earning talent lured from rivals around Europe. Messi, for example, is joining a team that this summer added the Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, the Netherlands midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and the Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos. All three, like Messi, were out of contract.
It is unclear just how P.S.G. will justify the addition of those salaries, and Messi’s, under European soccer’s cost-control rules. But like Manchester City, which broke the British transfer record this summer by signing Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish for 100 million pounds ($139 million), the club appears to be free of domestic or regional rules on spending.
Both P.S.G. and City have been investigated by European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, for breaching financial regulations, but each has managed to avoid significant penalties by successfully appealing cases to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Its hand strengthened by those successes, P.S.G.’s influence in the corridors of power has only grown.
Its president, Nasser al-Khelaifi, now sits on UEFA’s board and serves as president of the influential European Club Association, the umbrella body for more than 200 top-division teams across Europe. He is also the most senior official at BeIN Media Group, the Qatar-based broadcast network that is the largest buyer of UEFA broadcast rights.
For Barcelona, on the other hand, the sight of Messi’s wearing a different team’s colors — something unthinkable as recently as six weeks ago — will be the bitterest sign of how powerless even Europe’s biggest clubs can be in a marketplace dominated by nation states with deep pockets and big dreams.
Rory Smith contributed reporting.