You never know, of course, but it’s unlikely that the Emir of Qatar was glued to his TV on Dec. 28, in the middle of the night for him in Doha, to watch Lionel Messi’s interview with Jordi Evole on La Sexta like many of us did. But the Paris Saint-Germain owner would certainly have been made aware of what the Argentine told the world in this very anticipated chat.
Since he bought the French club in the summer of 2011, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani has always had a dream: bringing either Cristiano Ronaldo or Messi to the Parc des Princes. He tried many times, but it never materialized. However, he knows that this time, Messi’s mind is very much open and the desire and determination to put a plan together to try to bring him to Paris is very much there.
The Barcelona captain has not yet decided what he’ll do in the summer. He will be able to leave Camp Nou for nothing unlike last summer, when he tried to force a move out despite still being under contract. This time, it will be different.
Will he really end his 20-year love story with the city and the club that gave him everything? Some believe that because of the chaos at the club over the past few years, the run of bad results and the lack of direction, he will definitely want to leave. Others trust that deep inside, he only wants to stay and finish his incredible career in Barcelona and if he is convinced that the conditions are there (new president, better team, Xavi involved in some capacity…) for more success, he would stay.
But if Messi does leave, can PSG really recruit him this summer? Of course. Is it likely or realistic? That’s uncertain. The priority in Paris is to extend the deals of Neymar and Kylian Mbappé. They both expire in June 2022, and new long-term contracts for both forwards would mean continuing to build a very competitive team around them, as well as securing their values in the event they want to leave in the future.
Messi and Neymar last played together at Barcelona in 2017, but PSG are hoping they can be the club to reunite them. JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images
Sources have told ESPN that the recent talks with both entourages were positive and there is certainly a quiet confidence within the club that they will both sign the extension. “They want to stay,” said PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi a month ago. More talks are planned for later this month, according to sources. Now that Mauricio Pochettino is the manager, the club is hoping that clarity over the club’s direction in terms of management and having the Argentine in charge could help Neymar and Mbappe decide to commit to a future in Paris.
Even if the two superstars wanted to leave and not extend, who could buy them this summer? Barcelona don’t have any money for the Brazilian, while neither Real Madrid or Liverpool seem to have the financial package for Mbappe. Everyone has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and financially, it will be very difficult for any club to splash around €250 million in total (transfer fees, wages, commissions) on Mbappe.
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So let’s assume that both Neymar and Mbappe remain in Paris. This is where the Messi conundrum comes in.
However you look at it, from the club’s overall budget to its wage bill, its current sponsorship deals, the taxes, the FFP regulations, the loss of earnings due to the pandemic and to the collapse of the Ligue 1 domestic TV right deal, it looks impossible that PSG can afford all three of Neymar, Mbappe and Messi. As amazing as it would be, it is really hard to see how they could finance it.
According to ESPN sources, Neymar currently earns €36.8m per year (net). Mbappe is on €11.3m gross and Messi on €50m net! That equates to over €216m in wages per year just for them, and that’s without factoring in potential pay rises Neymar and Mbappé could get (especially the Frenchman) if or when they sign new contracts. There’s a possibility Messi takes a pay cut, but it would be an enormous, perhaps even irresponsible, amount of money.
This season, PSG’s wage bill is €337m, the third highest in Europe behind Barcelona and Real Madrid, for a total budget of €637.8m. The club would have to massively increase their revenue in order to be able to recruit the Argentine while staying within the rules of FFP. And no, selling hundreds of thousands of Messi’s PSG shirts would not cover it — far from it!
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Let’s not forget either that there are other positions in the team in need of work. Angel Di Maria’s deal ends in June. He has not been very good this season, but he would be really hard to replace if he left for free given the cost of replacing the veteran attacker. Juan Bernat, who has been very good for PSG, is also out of contract in June and the club also wants him to extend, which will require a pay bump.
There’s also a rebuilding job for Pochettino in midfield where he is likely to want a couple of signings, especially if some or all of Julian Draxler, Idrissa Gueye and Leandro Paredes leave. Paris will need funds to commit to that important foundational work between attack and defence.
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Despite the pie-in-the-sky scenario and outside chance of signing Messi, PSG will still try. They were in touch with Messi’s dad last summer and are trying to put a plan in place. People within the club’s power structure believe that the appointment of Pochettino as manager is a big plus when it comes to negotiations. Everyone knows who the manager will be in the summer, and PSG certainly see Poch as a big asset (undoubtedly more than Thomas Tuchel) when it comes to convincing Messi to come to the French capital instead of staying in Barcelona or being reunited with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
That won’t be an easy task, of course, but the hardest part of it all, for sure, will be to find the money. That might well prove to be mission impossible.