PARIS — Lionel Messi’s return to action with Paris Saint-Germain in a 5-0 win over Ajaccio played out at Parc des Princes on Saturday in an atmosphere as bizarre as it was in keeping with the capital outfit’s season overall. The Argentina international was greeted by a mix of whistling, cheering and children screaming during the warm-up and pretty much any time he got on the ball or even looked remotely close to it.
Messi’s return from suspension coincided with PSG’s ultras disbanding indefinitely and the result was a dire combination of eerie silence, deafening chants from fans finally able to see him play and muted jeers. It seems that most people are trying to ensure that they get to see him in action at least once before he moves on knowing that Messi will not be playing his soccer in Paris next year.
That PSG thrashed Ajaccio on the field became totally secondary as all eyes were fixed on the former Barcelona man because of his recent Saudi Arabia commercial stunt. In many ways, though, it was business as usual in Paris in terms of an underwhelming spectacle, with the main attraction Les Parisiens’ star names trotting about as opposed to the soccer they produce collectively.
Messi was not particularly impressive nor as bad as he has been at times since the FIFA 2022 World Cup which he won with the Albiceleste. You would not have known that, though, given how divisive his every touch of the ball was with corners and free kicks generating equal walls of frenzied chanting and vehement booing to the backdrop of large groups of kids losing their minds.
PSG are playing for what could and now almost certainly will be their 11th Ligue 1 title which is a French record tally which finally betters AS Saint-Etienne’s historic landmark outright. Yet you would not have known it given the focus on the hosts’ No. 30 to the point that even Kylian Mbappe’s stunning second goal received less adulation than a thwarted Messi foray.
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“It is hard to see a teammate getting whistled and it hurts all of us,” said Portuguese midfielder Danilo Pereira post-game of his Argentine colleague. “Leo is our teammate and we are all together. If there has to be whistling, then it should be for the whole team. Anyway, we press on as we have a title to win and that is what matters.”
If the past week or so has taught you nothing else, PSG are a club in total crisis and utterly devoid of any sort of identity. Their devoted ultras have abandoned them, the players participate in games with thinly disguised contempt — see Achraf Hakimi’s red cards in consecutive home games — and their campaign has been over since the minute Bayern Munich kicked them out of Europe.
Even before their latest UEFA Champions League setback, though, the fans had already lost interest in Messi and the circus that PSG has become since the World Cup in Qatar. That Christophe Galtier’s side were unbeaten coming out of the midterm break feels years in the past and not months because of everything that has happened since including a woeful run of Championnat form.
“I recall a few whistles against Leo, but there was also plenty of applause,” added Galtier after the game which also saw a scuffle ensue where Messi was kicked as Hakimi and then Thomas Mangani saw red. “He was focused on the game and playing for the team. He put in a good showing. The whistling from some hurt, but it was quickly drowned out by standing ovations from others.”
Saturday’s bizarre episode was perfectly complemented by Spiderman’s prematch dangle from the rafters and it is the logical conclusion of the most wretched of seasons. Mbappe continues his futile quest to achieve something meaningful with PSG without the help of most of his teammates yet recognition of his efforts on the field is minimized by what the club has become off it.