When Messi signed with Paris Saint-Germain in August last year, the statement that was released said – “Everything about the club matches my football ambitions.”
But, over five months down the line, one of the biggest talking points continues to be – is Messi struggling to fit in there? Is he not managing to adapt and reorient himself to the French way of things after spending 21 years in Spain? After scoring a mind boggling 672 goals in 778 matches for Barcelona FC, Messi has had the least productive start to a season ever in his career. He has also been plagued by knee and hamstring niggles.
There’s no doubt whatsoever that Messi is an absolute magician. He will go down in the history books as one of the all time greatest players to have played the beautiful game. Barring a World Cup medal, Messi has won everything else. Argentina’s 28 year wait for the Copa America title, which ended last year, also gave him his first prominent piece of silverware with the senior National team.
As far as club football is concerned, to be fair, adjusting to a completely different country, with very different weather, food, people and style of football played can be very difficult.
Someone like Karim Benzema in fact has said – “It is just a period of adaptation, because he is not scoring a lot of goals….But watch what he does on the pitch” indicating that what he has seen of Messi on the field has shown that he is doing fine, regardless of how many goals he is managing to score. Messi so far has 5 assists in Ligue 1 for PSG.
But interestingly, Benzema added to that by saying – “In any case you cannot criticise a player like that, he who criticises Messi, knows nothing about football in fact.”
So that begs the question – Can he not be criticised because he is doing well at PSG, despite it not showing in the goals column (which opinion is understandable) or can he not be criticised simply because he is Lionel Messi?
How Messi is really doing at PSG is something which will be viewed by different people in different ways of course, depending on what the personal expectations are etc. But before trying to understand if he is really finding it difficult to adapt to the French way of life and football, let’s address the question many asked when it was revealed that he is indeed going to France to join PSG – As one of the all time greats why choose Ligue1? Why not go to say the Premier League instead?
Former Manchester City players Mark Seagraves and Terry Phelan were guests on Times of India’s sports podcast Sportscast some time back and they had an interesting take on Messi leaving Barcelona and going to PSG.
“I didn’t think he did his legacy any favours in terms of how he behaved. Let’s have it right. He made Barcelone an awful lot of money and Barcelona made him an awful lot of money also, so, it was a bitter little twist at the end. This clause that he had, there were only one or two clubs in the world that could have got him and one of them was PSG and the other one was Manchester City. And I would have loved to see him in the Premier League because Ronaldo has done it in the Premier League. Now, Messi has gone to probably the third or fourth highest technical league in terms of Ligue 1 and he hasn’t pulled any trees up just now. He hasn’t been the same force that he was when he played for Barcelona, so that again leaves a little bit of a question mark in my mind that – if you are going to the French league, you’ve got to be tearing it up and he hasn’t. And even with the team that he has, it’s a team of Galacticos isn’t it – with the players that they have around him and that’s the only question mark I have with Messi.” Mark Seagraves, a football pundit, who has played for clubs like Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers in the past, said on TOI Sportscast on December 22, 2021.
So far in 12 league games played for PSG this season, Messi has scored 1 goal from 12 shots on target and has had 5 assists.
Many, like Benzema, might feel that Messi just needs time to settle in. While that is perfectly understandable, there will also be inevitable comparisons drawn with his great rival – Cristiano Ronaldo, a man who will always feature alongside Messi, in terms of goals, awards and overall legacy, in the never ending debate to claim the right to be called the best of this generation and for some, the best overall. Ronaldo did manage to adapt to life in as many as three top leagues in the world, rather successfully and rather quickly. Ronaldo began his career with Sporting Lisbon in Portugal, before moving to Manchester United (118 goals in 292 appearances – all competitions), then Real Madrid (450 goals in 438 appearances – all competitions), then Juventus (101 goals in 98 appearances – all competitions) and now he is back with United and doing well. Till before he rejoined United, Ronaldo had scored 320 goals in 356 overall matches since turning 30.
Cristiano Ronaldo (AFP Photo)
“That’s why I have always gone with Ronaldo in terms of who I think is the better of the two, because Ronaldo has done it in Serie A, Premier League, LaLiga and Messi hasn’t. He (Messi) has only done it in LaLiga.” Mark Seagraves, who made 42 appearances for Manchester City from 1987 to 1990 further said on TOI Sportscast.
But this is not a comparison of Ronaldo and Messi. That is for another day. For now, let’s get back to Messi and PSG and why Messi chose France over possibly England.
“You have to look at the whole environment, you have to look at the family. It’s not just him making this decision, it’s his family around him making this decision and when you look at the North-west of England, you have to look at the climate, the weather, the food. For me I think it was all about the environment. I think PSG brought him in to win the Champions League. If you look at the array of players around him – Neymar, Mbappe, Verratti, Donnarumma, di Maria – they have got some fantastic players around him. Maybe they have got too many players. But I think it’s all about the environment. That cold weather of the Northwest (of England). He looks outside and he is thinking – a wet Tuesday night at Burnley – I don’t fancy that.” Terry Phelan, who played for clubs like Leeds United, Swansea, Manchester City, Chelsea, Everton and others said on TOI Sportscast on December 22, 2021.
Messi leaving Barcelona was well and truly the end of an era. And though PSG have been trying to build a team of superstars for a while now, with the ultimate goal of winning the Champions League, Messi choosing Ligue 1 did raise a few eyebrows.
“I personally think he (Messi) chose the easy option for him. It’s an easier league to play in. The Premier League is frantic, it’s hectic, he wouldn’t have got anywhere near the amount of time on the ball. He’s a fantastic player, but when you look at Ronaldo when he went to Manchester United, he kicked-on straight away. But I think with Messi, his head was still in Spain. But I think that was the easy out for him, you know. He is still going to play in the Champions League and all of that but, it was the easy out. I would have loved it if he had gone to Manchester United or to Liverpool or to Manchester City” Mark Seagraves further said on TOI Sportscast.
What’s interesting is that in the Champions League Messi has already netted the ball 5 times in 5 appearances so far for PSG, with a total of 8 shots on target. And that might be an indicator that the future might hold better numbers for the Argentine magician in Ligue 1 also for PSG.
In December last year Messi’s former teammate and close friend Luis Suarez was quoted as saying – “Messi told me that he has suffered a lot playing in the cold and especially with the snow. You have to get used to the cold there.”
Also, though it’s been almost 6 months, many Barcelona and other football fans the world over continue to wonder why Messi really left Barcelona in the first place. The writing was clearly on the wall for a while with him itching to leave the club and not being able to get along with managers, but could he not have found a way to stay on with a club, which literally made him the superstar he is?
“At the end of the day I don’t think there’s anybody who is bigger than the club. Whether you are Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lewandowski, I think the clubs are always bigger. He didn’t get his own way and he wanted it his own way. He is a wonderful player but I just dont think managers could settle with him. I think he picked the team. And I think we’ve seen that when they got destroyed by Liverpool at Anfield. We saw the body language – 3-0 up at Nou Camp, go to Anfield and get absolutely destroyed (2019 Champions League semi-final – Barcelona lost 3-4 on aggregate after having a 3-0 lead from the first leg at home, losing the away fixture at Anfield 4-0). That was the time for him (Messi) to leave and I just think he was a couple of seasons too late. Yes, he should have gone to the Premier League. Manchester City, maybe Manchester United – you never know. Maybe that rainy, cold weather of Manchester didn’t suit him.” Terry Phelan further said on TOI Sportscast.
Though the beginning of the French chapter of his life hasn’t been a great one, PSG and Messi fans will be hoping he can settle in and go back to being the goal-scoring machine that he can be. The 7 time Ballon d’Or winner might not have found his midas touch for the Paris club just yet, but he is on track to be part of a league title winning club, with PSG comfortably topping the Ligue 1 points table currently, ahead of Nice and Marseille.
You can listen to the full episode of Sportscast with Mark Seagraves and Terry Phelan on the Messi vs Ronaldo debate, the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup and much more here: TOI Sportscast