PSG are making NO secret of their desire to lure Lionel Messi to France this summer, much to the anger of Barcelona… but it’s just the latest in a long line of off-field wars between these two European giants
- Paris Saint-Germain’s pursuit of Lionel Messi has hit the front pages in France
- It sparked an angry reaction from Spain, where the cover story was condemned
- Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman has spoken about a ‘lack of respect’ form PSG
- It is the latest episode in a succession of feuds between the two European clubs
It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book – tap-up your rival’s best player just before you have to play them. But PSG’s flirtation with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi is more than just a one-off unsettling of the opposition.
These two giants of European football have been the best of enemies over the last six years and there is no sign of relations becoming any more cordial any time soon.
The list of Paris Saint-Germain players Barcelona have tried and failed to sign over the years is very long and while the list of Barcelona players PSG wanted to sign is much shorter, their audacious acquisition of Neymar in 2017 remains one that belittled, not to say ridiculed, Barcelona.
Lionel Messi has been strongly linked with a move away from Barcelona this summer
The image of lawyers entering the offices of the Nou Camp to deposit the €222million (£198m) release clause is an enduring one.
But there are also those pictures of Eric Abidal and Barcelona directors Oscar Grau and Javier Bordas at Barcelona airport in 2019 as they prepared to fly to Paris to try to bring Neymar back.
Barcelona and PSG are not friends and the reasons may go deeper than even boardroom level.
In 2010 Qatar Foundation became the first-ever paying sponsor displayed on the shirts of Barcelona. The sum of around €165m (£145m) was paid for a contract lasting 2016.
By 2014 Qatar Foundation had been replaced by Qatar Airways and the commercial relationship continued until 2017 but it did not end well.
In 2015 elections had taken place at Barcelona and most of the candidates trying to oust incumbent Josep Bartomeu criticised him for his sponsorship deal with Qatar.
The French press has strongly linked Messi with PSG, angering their counterparts in Spain
Most of the criticism came with the insinuation that Qatar was not an appropriate sponsor because of alleged links to terrorism. One candidate, Agusti Benedito was even quoted in El Confidencial saying: ‘Beyond the violation of labour rights of its own people, there is the never refuted accusation that it is Qatari funds that are behind jihadist terrorism.’
Off the back of winning the treble that season Bartomeu won that election and the commercial relationship with Qatar continued but Barca’s sponsor did not appreciate the fact that no one at the club really seemed to take a stand against those electoral accusations.
When Bartomeu travelled to Qatar after his victory at the polls his hosts expected an apology, instead he just wanted a bigger deal. In 2017 Japanese company Rakuten became the shirt sponsor and all Qatar branding was taken down from the Nou Camp.
Barcelona’s own relationship with Qatar ended shortly after Josep Bartomeu’s election victory
If Barcelona and PSG had been rivals before, now they were really on opposing sides. PSG were still owned by Qatar Sports Investments and Barcelona was now the club who had walked away from their own Qatar sponsors and not with an amicable parting of the ways.
PSG paid Neymar’s buy-out clause in August 2017 and in 2019 the then Barcelona board made a series of half-hearted gesture-attempts at taking him back to the Nou Camp.
They were only gesture attempts and they were half-hearted because the directors making them knew full well what everyone now knows: that Barcelona are in dire financial straits.
But the attempts were still very public and privately annoyed the French club. Now the roles are reversed.
PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino, Sporting Director Leonardo, and players Angel Di Maria, Marco Verratti and Leandro Paredes have all made it clear how much they fancy Messi joining them this summer.
Mauricio Pochettino is very keen on the Ligue 1 side bringing Messi to the French capital
Barcelona have been upset by the rhetoric and Ronald Koeman spoke of a ‘lack of respect’ shown by the Ligue 1 club in a recent press conference. But there has been no let-up and France Football went into full wind-up mode with that front page of a smiling Messi in a PSG shirt on Tuesday.
Barcelona’s big problem is that they don’t have the moral high ground, just a long list of occasions when they did much the same to PSG as is now being done to them.
Even Koeman was called out on double standards when Lyon coach Rudi Garcia said: ‘I have read he is offended about PSG talking about Messi. He was not too shy to talk about Memphis Depay while the transfer window was open.’
This will all be settled on the pitch in the last-16 showdown. Messi, as ever, will feel the heat of the spotlight.
Not just for what he does with the ball at his feet but for how close he comes to either kissing the Barca badge if he scores, or, putting on a PSG shirt that he has swapped with an opponent at the end of the second leg.
Ronald Koeman has also spoke about the ‘lack of respect’ being shown by the Ligue 1 club
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