There are very few times a player or athlete of the magnitude of Leo Messi moves teams but when those moments, as rare as they are happen, they not only set the sports world off its kilter but the changes in fact reverberate around the globe.
Arguably the greatest soccer player of all time, Leo Messi departed Barcelona after joining the club in 2000 as a youth player and signed with French outfit Paris Saint Germain who have lofty desires and goals along with one of the best, if not the best squads in entire world.
The Argentinian born Messi saw his skills honed at the Catalan club as he transformed into the most deft defying skilled footballers scoring goals by the bundles while helping his teammates fill the net as well with his quickness and pace. Today, Barcelona is one of the world’s most popular teams thanks in part to Messi who continued to build the club’s tradition that had been fostered years prior to his arrival with greats such as Johan Cruyff, Ronaldinho, Ronald Koeman and many, many others.
It’s never ideal to see a player of Messi’s magnitude leave the club that he has been intertwined with for two decades and it’s even more curious as to why it happened, but these things do occur. When tears poured out of Messi’s eyes at his final press conference with Barca, the memory that instantly entered many a person’s heads was back 33 years to the day on August 9, 1988 when ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky was traded by the defending world champion Edmonton Oilers back in 1988.
It was inconceivable that Gretzky, the “Greatest” as he was called would leave his humble abode in Alberta, Canada for the limelight of Los Angeles as he shed endless tears just as Messi did 33 years later.
Fan bases were either devastated or filled with joy, but the end result of Gretzky heading to Tinseltown was the growth of the sport of hockey a billion fold with millions of youngsters being exposed to a sport that they had never even heard of. With the dramatic move the expansion of the National Hockey League across the United States took place over the following three decades, transforming a sport that had once had just 6 teams in their league and very limited revenues.
Gretzky’s move saw teams being placed in Florida, California, Texas, Columbus, Nashville and even in “Sin City” itself, Las Vegas, Nevada to just name a few. Who would have ever imagined the impact the Gretzky trade would have on American society as a whole.
Messi moving to Paris may have that exact same impact.
While France is a wonderful sports country, soccer is no doubt number one and the national team has won a pair of World Cups as well as two European Championships. However, how many top European club titles have teams from the domestic Ligue 1 won? Only one, Marseille in the 1993 Champions League final. That is it.
French Domestic teams have had very little success in continental play, with Paris Saint Germain only having won the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1996 to go along with the Marseille victory. In fact, the Cup Winners’ Cup ended its competition in 1999 and hasn’t been played since.
In other words, success for French club teams has been few and far between with very little hardware being hoisted. The chances that this will change with Messi at PSG is now very high along with the expectations.
In 2020, PSG made their first ever Champions League Final appearance which marked the first time a French club had advanced to the title game since Monaco did in 2004. Ownership led by Qatari Nasser Al-Khelaifi had taken over the team in 2011 and have continuously looked to better their team whether it was by bringing in Brazilian sensation Neymar or prying away Kylian Mbappé from Monaco with at the time a world record transfer.
The goal for Al-Khelaifi is to have the biggest, best and most successful soccer club in the world but in order to do that he needed to find a way to bring a player of Messi’s magnitude, a once in a lifetime player who was available after Barcelona somehow couldn’t find a way to keep him.
The minute a player like Messi leaves Barcelona, the value of the club, the value of all of clubs in La Liga and across the country along with the Spanish league itself drops, or in better yet plummets.
For France’s Ligue 1, PSG and soccer teams throughout the land, the value skyrockets instantaneously. Messi makes the pendulum swing back and forth at a much faster pace as the popularity of the sport, the team and the game of soccer goes through the roof. The world’s attention is now on France, its attention is on every move that PSG will make and youngsters who perhaps never thought that they could be a professional, a star or perhaps a superstar is ignited.
Merchandise, television rights and commercial investments now go into overdrive all because of the coup that Al-Khelaifi was able to pull off by signing Messi. Locally the Sports Channel, Sport 5 which already own the rights for Ligue 1’s games are jumping for joy while One TV which holds the Spanish league rights must be in mourning over the loss of one Leo Messi from their channel.
Instead of Barcelona jerseys, banners and the like being plastered all over countries from around the world, the Nike Jordan Brand PSG kit will take its place.
Al-Kheleifi has put everything about French soccer on the map like no one had been able to do before.
It’s not just Messi’s ability to score a goal or make a brilliant pass, it’s what he does for all of the stakeholders off of the pitch that will make the biggest difference which is something that Al-Khelaifi knows full well.
Sure Messi and PSG want to win and for certain they want to capture the elusive Champions League, but the influence that the sport of soccer now wields in France is incomparable to anything that had occurred in the past.
Ligue 1 which had been described by many as a “farmer’s league” had the perfect response for all of their critics. They now have a G.O.A.T. in Leo Messi. A GOAT or the greatest of all time.