Well, it happened. After a whirlwind 72 hours, Lionel Messi has been officially unveiled as the jewel in the crown of PSG's Galactico's 2.0 line-up. Fans of the French capital club are no doubt still pinching themselves, while Barça Culés will be making little headway in attempting to unravel how on earth it got to this point. For the neutral, it all feels slightly surreal.
PSG has courted Messi ever since the Qatar Sports Investments group arrived on the scene in 2011, and was reportedly prepared to offer an astronomical transfer sum for his services as recently as last summer. The player's contract wrangle with Barça meant he could join Les Parisiens as a free agent, making his $41 million annual salary (not including bonuses) seem like something of a bargain (for context, PSG paid an upfront sum of $261m to free Neymar from his contract).
PSG stands to make a chunk of that money back in other ways: This morning, the official club store on the Champs Élysée was queued almost a block deep as fans waited before opening time to get their Messi shirts. Staff in the newly opened Los Angeles outpost will find themselves spending plenty of time at the printing machine in the coming weeks too, given industry observers predict that worldwide unit sales could rise by 200,000 to 300,000 units.
It's not only through jersey sales where PSG stands to benefit from the deal, but sponsorships, too. Despite names such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Beckham, and of course, Neymar pitching up in Ligue 1 since QSI became involved, it still lags behind the other so-called "big five" European Leagues (England, Germany, Spain, and Italy being the other four) in terms of prestige. The aforementioned players are superstars no doubt, but Messi, along with Cristiano Ronaldo, orbits another type of fame entirely: According to French daily L’Equipe, there have been 850,000 new followers of the club on Instagram – a rise of around 4 percent - and around 200,000 on Facebook. As one pundit put it, the Argentine is not so much a footballer, but a tourist attraction. Viewers across the world will be tuning in to see his rumored debut against Strasbourg this weekend — an event so significant that tickets are now re-selling for an absurd €1,500.
PSG's gain both from a playing and commercial viewpoint is clear. But what about Messi? Critics will claim that he has taken the easy option by joining a big fish in a so-called "farmers league" for cash when he could have chosen a more difficult path — compatriot Diego Maradona's move to mid-table Napoli upon leaving the Camp Nou in 1984 has been cited. But these are changed days. Team Messi has built an off-field business empire that requires both money — and, more importantly, glamour — to be sustainable. In any case, why should he choose a lesser option by virtue of his god-given talent? PSG can not only offer Messi a tilt at the Champions League — a trophy he hasn't won in six years — but an unrivaled cool factor.
Jordan-branded PSG is football's answer to Supreme — a commercial powerhouse whose global and diverse fashion marketing strategy has become the envy of every football club worldwide. For all his preternatural talent, the non-English speaking, media-shy Messi hasn't been anywhere near as marketable as, say, the wildly charismatic Ronaldo (this is corroborated by Forbes, which places the Portuguese captain's off-field earnings at $50 million, compared to Messi's $33 million). Being associated with the street-savvy PSG will have a knock-on effect when it comes to Messi's image, assuming he is able to tear himself away from the normcore aesthetic.
If there's one sticking point for camp Messi in the deal, it's that he has had to sacrifice his famous number 10 for 30 — his initial number at Barça. Neymar has already taken the former, and similar to Messi, it is inextricably linked with his lifestyle brand. In an interview with WWD, Ginny Hilfiger, founder and creative director of the MGO Team that runs Messi's brand, spoke of her excitement about the transfer, but intriguingly, there is an unattributed quote that reads, "Hilfiger said they need to make sure that [Messi] is still going to be number 10." One look through the "10" adorned product on The Messi Store Instagram tells you why.
For the football romantic, this is a transfer that is no doubt tinged with some disappointment: the greatest player ever has left his academy side to join one that's pumped up on fiscal steroids by a government with a hugely questionable human rights record. Yet that horse bolted long ago. Scratch beneath the veneer of nearly all clubs, and you'll find dubious links or affiliations at some level — it's just some are more questionable than others (PSG's, admittedly, rank near the top). The club will surely taste on-field success going forward, but as the European Super League debacle showed, football, ultimately, is a business, and as far as business is concerned – be it money or clout — Messi and PSG makes total sense.