In an interview published in this month’s France Football, Lionel Messi notably spoke at length about his arrival at Paris Saint-Germain. From his return to Barcelona from the Copa America to first impressions of the PSG dressing room and Ligue 1, the Argentine recounts a summer of upheaval for him.
On your return to Barcelona [from the Copa América] things didn’t exactly go as planned – were you expecting any of it or not at all?
Honestly, not at all. I came back to Barcelona to prepare the season after making the most of a few extra days off that the manager had given me. My idea was to sign my contract and then start training again straight away. I thought everything was sorted and that it was just missing my signature [on the contract]. But when I arrived in Barcelona I was told that it wasn’t possible anymore, that I couldn’t stay and that I had to find myself another club, because Barcelona didn’t have the means to renew my contract. It shook up my plans.
You left Rosario at 13 years of age to come to Europe. Did you feel as though you were leaving home a second time, after 13 years in Barcelona?
Of course, it was extremely hard to withstand. To tell yourself that you have to leave home and that your family has to shake up their routine. The kids were going to have to change schools and follow us in a new place. It was the first time this happened in my career. Lots of things were going on in my head, but I didn’t have any other choice than to leave. That’s how it was and we had to accept it.
Did PSG contact you as soon as you announced your departure?
Barcelona published a statement saying I wasn’t going to continue, and from that moment on I was asking myself where I was going to end up. I had to find a new club to continue my career. I was lucky to be contacted by various clubs and one of them was Paris Saint-Germain. I’m grateful to the club because, from the beginning, they treated me well. They showed that they really wanted me and took care of me. I thank them and I’m really happy to be here today.
How long did it take you to tell yourself it was the right choice?
I had other offers, but I have to admit that we came to an agreement quite quickly with PSG. The discussions had started and it wasn’t simple because everything had to be sorted out in a short amount of time. Practically from one day to the next, even though it was a very difficult deal to get done, with regard to the circumstances. I was convinced by the project, the club’s ambitions, the players they have, the squad… All of these factors facilitated things to quickly reach an agreement.
Did the presence of your friends Neymar, Ángel Di María and Leandro Paredes influence your decision?
Yes, it was an important factor when I had to take my decision, because I knew I was coming to a new country and starting fresh. The fact that I knew I had friends in the dressing room allowed me to tell myself things were going to be simpler in terms of adapting. And I wasn’t wrong, integrating has been very easy, notably because there are a lot of Spanish speakers, like me, and some friends like Ney, Lea [Paredes] and Fideo [Di María] who helped me when I arrived.
Did you speak about your possible arrival beforehand, notably at the Copa América?
Often, yes [laughs]. They were regularly asking me when I would join them, but always jokingly, because they knew my idea was to stay at Barcelona. So it was a surprise for them as well when I told them I was coming to Paris. They were both very happy and very enthusiastic.
Did the presence of your compatriot Mauricio Pochettino also play a part in your decision?
Clearly, yes. It helps when the manager comes from the same country as I do, that we speak the same language, that we knew each other before, even though we hadn’t had the chance to work together. It makes things more fluid.
What is the difference between the MSN [Messi-Suárez-Neymar] and the MNM [Messi-Neymar-Mbappé]?
[Laughs] Age, first of all! We were young when we started to play with Ney. Now, the young one is Kylian. And then Kylian and Luis are two very diffrent players. Luis is a pure number 9, a lone striker, who’s particularly good in the box and is used to scoring lots of goals. Kylian likes to be on the ball more, he’s a very strong and extremely rapid player, who kills you if you leave any space and scores a lot as well. They are both spectacular players, but with very different qualities.
What are your first impressions of Ligue 1? Were you surprised about a particular aspect?
I haven’t been here for very long. I haven’t played a lot [the interview was carried out at the end of September] so it’s hard to draw conclusions. But at first glance it’s a league that a lot more physical than La Liga. Here, the teams seem stronger and the matches are very contested, with few spaces. Most players are very strong. But it’s still a bit early to give my full opinion of Ligue 1, because it’s one thing watching the games, but another being out there on the pitch.