If there was still a doubt in the past 48 hours, there is total clarity now: Lionel Messi will not be a Paris Saint-Germain player next season.
The Argentina international's contract expires in June and even if the club and player had agreed in principle back in November to continue the adventure together, things have changed dramatically since the turn of the year. It's over and those relationships have fractured, so Team Messi will begin figuring out where he will be playing for the 2023-24 season.
The latest chapter in the difficult relationship between Messi and PSG is also, in essence, the last straw for the club, so let's review where things went wrong.
The 2022 World Cup winner has been suspended for two weeks after missing Monday's training session without permission because of sponsorship obligations in Saudi Arabia. He will not be paid, and he will not be allowed to train or play with the first team. Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the PSG chairman, was on a business trip in the U.S. when he heard of Messi's absence, and he decided to be tough.
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The instructions from the coaching staff were clear: if PSG beat Lorient this past Sunday, the players would have Monday and Tuesday off. If they didn't, they would only have Tuesday off. In the end, they lost 3-1 at home in the Parc des Princes, turning in one of their worst performances of the season. Achraf Hakimi was sent off for two bookable offenses inside the opening 20 minutes following Lorient's early goal, and things quickly unraveled even after Kylian Mbappe equalized.
For too long, the French champions have been notoriously lenient with their star players. Many superstars, especially Neymar, got away with plenty of ill discipline. Not this time. The liberties taken by the World Cup winner were seen as a step too far, which is why the club took the stance of setting an example. Never since the Qatari owners took over the club, back in 2011, had a player been suspended in this manner and for this long. Yet it's now happened, and it's been done to the greatest player of all time.
Does this mean the end of the story for Messi in Paris? For sure.
Does Messi care about it and about the sanction? Obviously not.
Messi knew that travelling to Saudi Arabia on a "work day," without the green light from the club, was not acceptable, but he went regardless. He was named as the country's "tourism ambassador" back in 2022, making at least three trips in the past year as part of his contractual obligations to visit. He'd had to postpone this trip twice because of logistical issues and was reportedly unwilling to do it again. The perception, however, is that he didn't respect his club enough to report for mandatory training after that Lorient loss, their third in the past four home games.
However, even before this latest incident, his future didn't look all that clear. After news before the 2022 World Cup of their agreement in principle to sign a new deal, meetings between Jorge Messi (Lionel Messi's dad) and the club in February and March led to nothing. To those in the room, it felt as though neither party really wanted to continue together. PSG even reportedly asked their star to take a pay cut, knowing it was something he would never be likely to accept.
Additionally, people at the club were no longer convinced that there were legitimate on-field reasons to keep him. Messi shone in Ligue 1, where he is still too good in most games against most opponents, but he notably failed in the Champions League, with two poor performances against Bayern Munich in which he showed his limitations. Messi was ostensibly recruited to help the team win the Champions League; with him, they lost twice in the round of 16.
In the meantime, Team Messi was loving the attention from Inter Miami, Barcelona and Al Hilal -- the Saudi club are the only one at this time to have made an offer to sign the 35-year-old player (he turns 36 in June) this summer, according to ESPN sources. Simple things, such as the fact that the three Messi children have not been registered in a school in Paris for next year, are a good indicator that the family doesn't want to stay in France. Their dream is to go back to Barcelona, of course, but his former club would need to come up with a financial offer that not only suits Messi but is acceptable with LaLiga and its wage bill regulations. Considering Barça's well-documented financial issues, there is still a long way before they can start to really believe in the prodigal son's return.
The offer from Al Hilal, however, is still on the table and Messi is clearly keeping all his options open. Until this week, PSG was one of them. It is not the case anymore, and it is certainly not the ending that a lot of people -- including PSG and Messi himself -- imagined. But there's no turning back now.