From the acclaim of Santiago del Estero back home in Argentina, to the whistles of the Parc des Princes in Paris. Five days will have felt like a long time for Lionel Messi.
A hat-trick against Curacao, which saw him surpass 100 goals for his country, the new world champions, amid a festival atmosphere was followed by a limp 1-0 defeat last night by Lyon with Paris Saint-Germain, a result that illuminated the contrast between his worlds for club and country.
Sunday night’s home match started uncomfortably for Messi and did not get any better. His name, when it read out over the stadium loudspeakers as the teams were announced, was met by whistles from a section of PSG fans. The response was not unanimous by any means. But it was very audible.
Not the warmest reception for Messi… https://t.co/ULD0guBItt
— Peter Rutzler (@peterrutzler) April 2, 2023
The uncertainty of the Argentinian superstar’s future here in the French capital helps explain the disgruntled mood on the terraces. The contract Messi signed when he joined from Barcelona in the summer of 2021 is up in the summer (he also turns 36 in June), and talk of a renewal over the winter has now given way to doubt.
Former Barcelona and France striker Thierry Henry, a pundit for Amazon Prime, who were broadcasting the game in France, said he would like Messi to end his career back at Camp Nou, the stadium he graced for so many years. “For the love of football, he didn’t leave as he should have left,” Henry explained. “I’m happy to see him in the French championship. The whistles don’t help. Thirteen assists, 13 goals (from 24 Ligue 1 appearances for Messi so far this season). We are talking about the best player in the world.”
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Yet, when the football got underway last night, Messi did not look like the world’s best player.
It was the little things he was getting wrong. A heavy first touch. A misplaced pass. An accumulation of the sort of mini-errors that Messi rarely makes.
The most noticeable came midway through the first half, when Kylian Mbappe played him through towards goal from the right side. Messi skipped over one challenge to open up a shooting opportunity… but the shot never came. There was a hesitation — an uncharacteristic second guess, perhaps — and then a recovery challenge from the visitors and the chance was gone. This was not a Messi at ease. Overall, he would lose the ball 26 times in the match.
He was not alone in being off-kilter. He was part of a team who were simply not functioning.
Mbappe misplaced the ball 21 times himself and may as well have not been there in the second half, such was his lack of involvement. The rest of the PSG team looked bereft of ideas as they tried to overturn a 1-0 deficit in the final half-hour, and they looked unwilling to increase the intensity. It was languid, bordering on disinterested.
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