In August 2021, rumors swirled around the future of Lionel Messi, one of the greatest soccer players of all time, who broke down in tears at a press conference to announce he would be leaving FC Barcelona of Spain, for whom he had played for two decades, leading the club to extraordinary success and establishing himself as a global superstar of the sport, rivaled only by Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
According to statements issued by both the club and Messi himself, both sides had agreed a new contract for the Argentine attacking midfielder, now aged 34, the terms of which would have seen his previous salary — reported to have be $667,000 per week — cut in half.
However, strict Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules put in place by Spain soccer authorities, combined with Barcelona’s dire financial straits — the club has debts of more than €1 billion ($1.2 billion) — ultimately made the new contract impossible.
Messi’s previous contract expired earlier in the summer of 2021, meaning he was now a free agent, and could be signed by any other club without the need for a transfer fee to be paid. However, Messi’s profile in the sport, and his likely wage demands, meant only a very small number of clubs were in a realistic position to sign him.
Over the weekend Aug. 6 to Aug. 8 of 2021, rumors emerged online that French giants Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) were aggressively pursuing the signing of Messi, who scored a staggering 672 goals in 778 first-team appearances at Barcelona, and won a record six Ballons d’Or — an annual award generally considered to recognize the world’s best player each year — between 2009 and 2019.
PSG was taken over in 2012 by the Qatari government-run Qatar Investment Authority, providing an extraordinary injection of cash and sponsorship deals that have helped drastically improve the club’s fortunes in the intervening decade.
The club’s controversial Qatari backers also funded a series of marquee signings, including the two most expensive transfers in soccer history: that of Brazilian star Neymar from Barcelona, in August 2017 for €222 million ($264 million or $293 million in 2021 terms); and that of French star Kylian Mbappe from AS Monaco, in February 2018 for €180 million ($223 million or $247 million in 2021 terms).
On Aug. 10, PSG further fueled speculation that its signing of Messi was imminent — scheduling a press conference for the next morning, and posting short videos featuring the Argentinian flag and snippets of an Argentinian soccer jersey.
However, the club removed any remaining doubts when, on the evening of Aug. 10, they officially confirmed Messi’s move to the club on a two-year contract, with the option of a third year.
In a news release posted to the club’s official website, PSG wrote:
[PSG] is very happy to announce the signing of Leo Messi on a two-year contract, with the option of a further year. The six-time Ballon d’Or winner is considered a legend of the sport, and a true source of inspiration for all generations, on and off the field.
The signing of Leo reinforces the ambitions of PSG and offers our loyal supporters an exceptional team, which promises to bring incredible footballing moments in the years to come.
Messi himself further confirmed the bombshell move, providing the following statement as part of PSG’s news release:
I can’t wait to start a new chapter of my career in Paris. The club and its vision match perfectly my own ambitions. I know just how talented the players and staff are here. By their sides, I’m determined to create something great for this club and for the fans. I cannot wait to step on to the grass at [PSG home ground] Parc des Princes.