Messi's move to PSG should raise alarm bells for all football fans
The greatest player of all time is now the face of a sportswashing operation
Lionel Messi's move to Paris Saint-Germain felt both surreal and inevitable. It was assumed Messi would retire at Barcelona, or at least make a romantic return to Newell's Old Boys to play out his final days. But having seen Barcelona's trajectory towards financial oblivion over the past few years, nobody should really be surprised that his time at the Camp Nou ended like this. It is both the biggest transfer of all time for countless reasons, and should be ringing alarm bells for all football fans. And it can all be tracked back to PSG's first massive power grab - signing Neymar.
Neymar's move in 2017 was deemed impossible, until it wasn't. By triggering a release clause perceived to be untouchable and in turn smashing the world transfer record by over 200 per cent, the Qatar-owned club provoked a chain reaction of inflated transfers further down the food chain that would eventually culminate in Barcelona's greatest ever player making the same switch four years later. And football is worse for it.
Neymar's transfer suddenly left Barcelona with €225m burning a hole in their pocket and a significant absence in their attacking line. This was not the start of their financial troubles, which really began with Josep Bartomeu's ascension to the presidential office in 2014, but it greatly exacerbated them, as the Catalan club indulged in some of the most damagingly wasteful dealings ever seen in football. The consequences - players who don't fit a system, earning more money than any sensible club would pay them, plunging the club further and further into debt - have resulted in Messi being forced out of the club he loves and wanted to stay at for no reason other than the club's own mismanagement of their finances.
And for all the excitement that his reunion with Neymar brings those of us who primarily watch football to be entertained, it is also the final nail in the coffin for the illusion of romance at the elite level of the game.
Once the news broke late on Thursday last week that Messi would be departing Barcelona - for real, this time - it was clear to anyone tuned into the game that Paris was his only destination. Something is deeply wrong with the game's ecosystem when the greatest player of all time becomes available for no fee and only one club stand a chance of signing him.
For many, Messi has represented the the last glimpse of romance in an increasingly unequal sport, used by human rights abusers to clean their image with the glitz and glamour of Air Jordan kits and rainbow flicks. He was the last true One Club Man. He never dived. He was relentlessly brilliant, constantly producing jaw dropping moments, and showed no sign of slowing down. But even the club he played for, who pride themselves on being 'més que un club', have been taking sponsorship money from the same regime for the last decade.
The timing of the move is also spectacularly convenient for Qatar. With their World Cup just 18 months away - for which 6,500 migrant workers have died while working on its construction - they now have the perfect product to launder their image: Messi's face. If there wasn't quite enough sympathy around the world for PSG and their expensive, imbalanced, underachieving side, the arrival of the most popular player on the planet should go some way to changing that. With bigger global TV audiences, even more people playing with them on FIFA, the clamour for 30 Messi jerseys, and his cherubic face, Qatar's image on the world stage is about to get the deep clean of its life.
Football has been the frog boiling in the sizzling pan of questionable regimes - not just Qatar - for years now, with all of us distracted by the entertainment provided by some of the most talented players to ever exist, used as pawns in a geopolitical war.
Maybe now, we will wake up and realise how far out of reach our beloved game has strayed. But sadly, one fears it is now too late to reclaim it.