'Merci pour Messi': Barcelona and La Liga’s loss is PSG and Ligue 1’s gain

Amid all the drama of the last few days, the irony can't possibly be lost on anyone.

Merci pour Mess: Barcelona and La Liga’s loss is PSG and Ligue 1’s gain

When Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) brazenly raided and robbed Barcelona of the services of Neymar Jr for a [still] world-record €222 million -- just because they could -- in summer of 2017, the Blaugrana, bruised egos and all, felt the need to respond in two main ways.

First, they'd make sure prized assets would be harder to prise away from the club in the future by firing already ridiculous release clauses into even more absurd realms, beginning with Lionel Messi -- most prized of them all -- who was tied down shortly thereafter to a new deal that could only be stirred by a €700m (more than double of what it used to be, €300m) bid.

Second, and a bit more reasonably, they set about attempting to replace the rare gifts of Neymar, and the manner in which they did so was absolutely mind-blowing: a total of €370m spent on, first, Ousmane Dembele (2017), next Philippe Coutinho (2018), and then Antoine Griezmann (2019).

It wasn't just our minds that Barca's spending spree blew, though. Ultimately, those fees -- and the accompanying astronomical wages -- contributed in no mean way to blowing a crater in the club's finances, eventually plunging them into the abyss of debt they currently find themselves in.

And here comes the irony, in so many ways that it makes one's head spin: splurging so much cash still didn't result in landing a satisfying -- no, not even close -- replacement for Neymar; if anything, the cumulative effect of that only made it harder -- impossible, actually, as we've now found out -- to hold on to Messi; and finally, by the time their Argentine G.O.A.T walked out this week, the seemingly insurmountable wall of a release clause intended to keep him tethered to the Camp Nou had long crumbled, a whole year prior.

No prizes for guessing which club Messi is now joining: why, the very one that snatched Neymar so boldly, with Barca powerless to prevent -- and inadvertently complicit in facilitating -- the reunion of these South American pals they'd so frantically sought to keep apart (in a football sense, at least) for four years!

Barca, though, are not the only ones left feeling pretty sore here; La Liga, the domestic league they compete in, and which Messi has almost single-handedly propped up since 2018, will feel the pinch, too, even if its chiefs appear almost blasé.

Three years ago, La Liga lost half of its grip on most football fans around the world, when its other veritable crowd-puller, Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, left for Italian side Juventus; now, it's lost the other, Messi (along with former Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, often the third wheel in many a Clasico duel for the best part of the last decade or so), to Ligue 1's PSG.

Make no mistake; France's top-flight wouldn't suddenly (never, maybe?) overtake Spain's in the eyes of many.

PSG might be the most star-studded side in the world right now (ever, maybe?), and there would always be the occasional probability of a title-winning upset by a Monaco or a Lille, but Ligue 1 is very much a one-team fiefdom. La Liga, on the other hand, is now quite open (thanks, in part, to Messi's departure), and its teams remain formidable in Europe (certainly in the UEFA Europa League, if no longer in the Champions League).

What Ligue 1 would have more of now is attention and money, and at a time when it has never been in greater need of the latter. Messi will set French stadia alight, but he'd also help line quite a few coffers, left a little bare by the coronavirus pandemic and the mighty mess that has become of the league's TV rights.

It wouldn't matter so much to Ligue 1's other 19 clubs that the gulf on the pitch between themselves and PSG is now far wider than ever before, once the Messi-inspired cash begins to hit the accounts. Sacrificed on the altar of Barca's financial recklessness, and perhaps also as a pawn in the power play with La Liga, the 34-year-old is surely going to be a welcome presence across the border, embraced not just by PSG's obviously elated faithful.

At any point from now, in fact, Spain could expect a note from its northeastern neighbours, loaded with the most concise of messages: Merci pour Messi.

By Yaw Frimpong

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