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It was 10pm in Barcelona on Thursday when Paris Saint-Germain made their move for Lionel Messi. The stunning news had broken two hours earlier that the forward would not be staying at the Camp Nou and the way PSG went about their business showed how determined they were to get their man.
In transfers approaches are regularly made via intermediaries or agents, and clubs hoping to tempt Messi from Barcelona had often gone down this route. But PSG calculated this was a moment for the personal touch and, seeing an unexpected opening, they pounced.
The sporting director, Leonardo, made a direct approach to Messi’s father, Jorge, and the player’s lawyers – and the president, Nasser al-Khelaifi, joined the talks later that night. It is rare for Khelaifi to get involved but he did so with Neymar’s transfer from Barcelona four years ago and his presence here confirmed the move’s scale and the seriousness of PSG’s push.
On Thursday morning such a turn of events had seemed impossible. Messi and his father had travelled back to Barcelona from Ibiza for the player to sign a five-year contract to stay at the Camp Nou. An announcement was planned for 8pm and the details were clear: two years’ salary paid over five years to help the financially troubled club.
Messi was stunned and distraught when Barcelona’s president, Joan Laporta, said La Liga’s rules on salary limits meant the club had no way to register him. But his father quickly stressed to him the need to find a solution and both were impressed that two of the most important people at PSG came straight to them. Messi also spoke to the manager, Mauricio Pochettino.
Talks involving Khelaifi, Leonardo, Jorge Messi and the player’s lawyers went late into Thursday night and continued all through Friday. The Messi camp were excited by the project presented to them and accepted the wage proposal of about €35m (£29.6m) net, including bonuses, on a two-year contract with an option for a further season. Negotiations on issues such as taxes and sponsors took much of the time. The need to factor in financial fair play rules was discussed but PSG were always confident on that front. Messi’s deal, like Neymar’s, has a clause that guarantees him a bonus if PSG win the Champions League.
On Saturday a verbal agreement was reached and PSG prepared a formal contract with their legal team. This was sent to Messi at 10am on Sunday, not long before his tearful farewell press conference at Barcelona. Although Messi denied there that a deal with PSG was done, in reality it was all but sorted.
Messi’s lawyers wanted two days to check every detail and rumours that the player was flying to Paris were at that stage false. By Monday night, though, everything was in place and final agreement was confirmed at about 10am on Tuesday morning. A short while later Messi and his family set off for Barcelona airport.
In the PSG dressing room celebrations at Messi joining had started as early as Friday. That was because Neymar had confidently told the squad his former Barcelona teammate would be coming. From Thursday night Neymar had acted almost like a member of the PSG board, calling and messaging Messi and pushing him to make the move.
Messi was certainly tempted by the opportunity to play again with his good friend but there is no question Barcelona had been his first choice. In the last week of April Messi had, through his father, turned down an approach from PSG, determined to stay at the only club he has really known.
The previous month Manchester City had made an approach via Pep Guardiola and club executives who also have a background at Barcelona. Messi had given the same response: he was continuing at the Camp Nou.
This time City have not made a move for Messi. Guardiola is happy with Jack Grealish as the new No 10 and is looking at Tottenham’s Harry Kane as his priority if one more big attacking signing can be made. With Chelsea focused on getting Romelu Lukaku from Internazionale they too stayed away from talks with Messi.
Less than a week ago PSG had no chance of signing Messi. But it often pays to expect the unexpected when it comes to transfers and so a seemingly impossible deal has been done.