Own it. Accept it. Understand the idea of choice.
When sucky things happen to wonderful players, the nature of fandom is to seek absolution for them. But from the outset it should be clear that Lionel Messi chose to hitch his wagon to PSG, for a last chance at something great.
There’s no shame in that. As he surveyed the landscape for a club that could meet his wage demands and have a legitimate shot at European glory — plus some of his buddies were there — where better than PSG. It wasn’t the only club that he could have chosen, but it was the best club for his needs and ambitions.
Paris St. Germain is imploding, and it’s ugly, expected and for culers, beautiful all at the same time. While the rivalry with Real Madrid is forged in decades of football, spite and politics, morbo bubbling over like a volcano, the rivalry with PSG is quite different. It’s newer, it’s uglier, its roots are in precious little more than spite. If there is a club that many culers enjoy failing more than Real Madrid, that club might be PSG.
And here they are, in the wake of yet another disastrous Champions League exit, the one player who they thought would be enough to put them over the top just a dejected ancillary piece, and everything is falling apart. Rage, locker room tirades, investigations of a president already sentenced to 28 months behind bars and its best player is certain to leave for the club that staged an epic comeback to bounce PSG for yet another season.
On the pitch and off, PSG imploded, a stain on the face of football that deserves every bit of banter anyone can muster. It was a proud club, a club with a history, which shouldn’t be forgotten. But when it became a wholly owned subsidiary of an oil-rich petrostate, PSG turned into that nouveau-riche asshole that everyone doesn’t like, lording it over one and all in one gilded accoutrement after another.
Qatar bought a team, Qatar bought a TV network, Qatar bought, at the time, the second-best player in the game, snatching him from a vaunted club that was on a moneygrubbing tour of the U.S., going one up on the patricians. “You might have history, but we have money. Haha.”
Neymar skipped off, even after the best player in the game offered to play for him, to sacrifice his own glory, even basking in the glow of a glittering sporting project, he said no.
Neymar chose PSG, chose to have his own project, chose the money. He didn’t think for an instant that he was going to become, to nick the title of an XTC song, the Mayor of Simpleton, exemplar of empty-headed excess, surface sheen and nothing else. No spine, no substance. That much was clear as Real Madrid bounced them from Europe, a club with spine, substance and a deep history, a club with no idea, especially at home, of losing. Even when they aren’t the best team on any given day, that belief sustains them.
PSG, under the aegis of their new owners, became a bauble acquisition society. Sofas that don’t match chairs, weird curtains in crazy places, and what is that table doing over there, by itself? Nothing in this crazy quilt of a mansion makes sense. Managers came and went, rearranging the furniture only to find that there wasn’t anywhere to put it, that the help wasn’t interested in doing any real work — and another one bites the dust. Tuchel, Emery, Pochettino, all failures sacrificed on the altar of the clearest example of what having a lot of money but no idea what to do with it buys you.
PSG is a healthy, unassailable, double-digit distance clear of the second-place team in Ligue 1. But they didn’t get Neymar, didn’t get Di Maria, didn’t get Marquinhos, didn’t get Mbappe, didn’t get Messi to win Ligue 1. They already could have done that, the occasional glitch notwithstanding. They bought to conquer Europe. And every year, year after year, the same kind of failure — of mind and spirit — showed them up, showed them out.
The abudance of joy to be found in their misery isn’t anything to be ashamed of. PSG as a club has a history. But its most current history is as example of a sportswashing project with a goal of pumping up the parent company before its big, showoff project, a World Cup built in part on the corpses of migrant workers.
And on a match, the first match at home after yet another European humiliation, the home supporters booed and whistled Neymar, booed and whistled Messi, even as they cheered Mbappe, the only player looking like he wanted to be there.
Neymar looks increasingly past it, Messi looks like a part-time worker saving himself for his main gig. None of the other players have any structure or guidance, because where’s the example? PSG offered to make Mbappe the highest-paid player in the game, and he’s scuttling off to Madrid because money can’t buy everything.
When PSG nabbed Neymar, it set in motion a string of events that can only make that transfer seem a Pyrrhic victory, a transaction that set aflame the pyre on which not just one, but two clubs are spit roasting.
Neymar was brilliant in the early days at PSG, but he was never enough. Player after player came, and it still wasn’t enough. Meanwhile Barcelona squandered that money on a series of expensive, record-setting transfers that failed physically, psychologically or tactically, a half billion Euros down the crapper as all three are set to leave this summer for prices far from the ones that brought them to Catalunya.
The Neymar transfer was a bad deal for everyone. So was the Messi deal. When Joan Laporta kicked Messi out of his boyhood club, the PSG move was seen as the one that would put them over the top. There were interviews, photo ops and buzz, and then came the reality of a player looking pretty much like he wanted to be anywhere other than there. And the player chose that.
There isn’t a club in world football that wouldn’t have leapt at the opportunity to sign Lionel Messi, even as there are only a few that would have been able to pay his salary. He chose one of the clubs that could. Did he know what he was getting into, what a dysfunctional shitshow he was about to step in? Maybe. Or maybe he thought he would make the difference, like he used to in Catalunya. Maybe.
But he chose. And as the boos and whistles rained down and people said that he didn’t deserve that, that his accomplishments and history in the game should make those ingrates accept him. Those people are wrong. Choices come with consequences. Kick that price down a few notches, pick a club in European football that would need a mentor for young players. You get to start, have fun and shape young minds. Lots of options were available for a player who could have chosen to play for free and still be richer than Croesus. There is no shame in choosing money and the potental for great success.
Laporta kicked him out and the talks with PSG began almost immediately, with nobody else in the frame. That was his choice, even if he didn’t choose the misery-slaked hell that is life in the City of Lights, wealthy, flat-track bullies that show up to the local autocross with a turbocharged Porsche 911 and crow when they win, blame others when they lose. You don’t choose to step in crap when you go for a walk in Paris, but if you don’t watch where you step, you made that choice and your shoes are brown-stained nonetheless.
There is fault, blame, choice, failure and misery aplenty for both clubs joined at the waist by a rope of spite. My joy in PSG’s failure is abundant. Spite? Oh, yes. Sucked up though an embossed crazy straw. And now that their failure is real and comprehensive, an all-consuming fire that sears everything in its path, the reality is that people chose to be there. Choice has consequences, even if those consequences for some of the people touched by them, aren’t anything like what they deserve.