Lionel Messi to PSG: Superstar’s Paris Saint-Germain transfer could save Ligue 1 from financial cliff

We are not looking to recruit Lionel Messi,” said Paris Saint-Germain chairman and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi back in 2011 shortly after Qatar Sports Investments’ arrival at Parc des Princes. “We want the new Messi. We want to invest in the great talents of tomorrow.”

Ten years on from that transformative summer overseen by sporting director Leonardo, the Brazilian is back at the club and putting the finishing touches — along with Al-Khelaifi — to arguably the strongest transfer window showing in the French giants’ history.

With Messi as the unexpected cherry on top, PSG and Ligue 1 are receiving a major influx of established star power with Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Georginio Wijnaldum also arriving as free agents and Achraf Hakimi joining from ailing Italian champions Inter Milan.

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Apart from the wild summer of 2017, when Les Parisiens welcomed Brazilian superstar Neymar to the French capital for $260 million and then managed to lure French prodigy Kylian Mbappe from domestic rivals AS Monaco, Le Championnat has never seen such a flurry of high-profile activity.

That the likes of Messi, Ramos, Donnarumma, Wijnaldum and Hakimi all arrive at this moment is significant as Ligue 1 has never been weaker — at least not in an economic sense — with domestic television rights obliterated and matchday revenue only just set to return post-COVID-19.

With the collapse of Mediapro’s $914 million per year deal (for 80% of rights), Amazon’s subsequent entry into the market at $305 million per year (also 80% of games) and the legal sparring between Canal+ and Qatar-backed beIN Sports over their $390 million contract (for the two remaining matches), the value of French top-flight soccer has plummeted exponentially.

Despite Lille OSC’s unexpected, but deserved, 2020-21 title success, interest in Ligue 1 is lower than ever — particularly in France itself due to the apathy created by the financial struggle and the exorbitant prices demanded to simply access all of the domestic action from home.

Until now, that is. With Messi coming to Ligue 1, France suddenly boasts arguably the top three players in the world at present with Neymar and Mbappe already in Paris and star talents in pretty much every other position across the pitch.

The 34-year-old record six-time Ballon d’Or winner just lifted this summer’s Copa America with Argentina and his 30-goal haul in La Liga, despite one of the weakest Barca teams that La Pulga ever played in, suggests that he still has plenty to offer on the pitch and that is reflected in the fact that PSG are reportedly giving him a two-year deal with an option for a third.

The fact that Messi and Ronald Koeman’s Catalan side kept the Spanish title race alive until late on and gave PSG a scare in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 before ultimately bowing out, despite a screamer from Messi, further emphasized that he is far from a spent force.

Being able to align a starting XI with Messi, Neymar and Mbappe in attack with the likes of Angel Di Maria, Marco Verratti, Marquinhos and Keylor Navas as just a few members of an all-star supporting cast makes Mauricio Pochettino’s men the most eye-watering team on paper.

Such is Messi’s drawing power that, while French football’s Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) governing body has allowed the domestic situation to descend into chaos over the past 12-18 months despite Neymar and Mbappe’s presence, Messi’s arrival genuinely presents them with a chance to mend some of that damage.

His superstar status remains undimmed and he is second to none in terms of loyal followings which translates into a global following that has been feasted upon by La Liga and the Champions League over the past decade or so and will now turn its attention towards Ligue 1 to keep up with its man.

Ever since QSI’s arrival in Paris, Le Championnat has failed to truly tap into its massive potential international audience with the Champions League the main showcase for the capital club’s conveyor belt of talent over the years from Zlatan Ibrahimovic through Edinson Cavani to Neymar and Mbappe.

Although Messi’s initial two-year contract might not enough to secure major long-term interest, simply his coming to French soccer gives the LFP and all Ligue 1 clubs an opportunity to attract and harness a potential new audience which could provide valuable additional finances.

The damage done to the domestic landscape so far is bordering on critical, but Messi’s arrival in France is capable of changing things for the better — especially if he stays for the full potential three-year period.

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