Lionel Messi openly wept in his final press conference as a Barcelona player and you’d have struggled to find someone in Catalonia who didn’t shed tears with him.
The Argentine arrived at La Masia, Barcelona’s fabled youth academy, as a 13-year-old boy in need of medical treatment to help him grow because he suffered from growth hormone deficiency. He left Camp Nou as a 10-time LaLiga champion, a four-time Champions League winner and a six-time Ballon d’Or recipient.
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Messi’s upsetting exit from Barcelona was the result of the club’s financial mismanagement, which saw its expenditure on player wages balloon beyond what it could afford. The finger cannot be pointed at LaLiga officials for taking a firm stance on preventing Barcelona re-signing Messi. Rather, the blame lies squarely at the feet of those in power at the Blaugrana. Their inability to control their spending has cost them the greatest player to ever wear the Barcelona jersey.
But Barca’s loss is Paris Saint-Germain’s oh-so-sweet gain. PSG tied Messi down to a two-year deal, with the option for a third on a salary of $AUD55 million a season.
But Messi hasn’t just signed for PSG. He’s part of something much bigger. The footballer has become a very expensive piece of political propaganda.
PSG is one of only two state-owned clubs in football. The French club is owned by Qatar Sports Investments, which is a subsidiary of Qatar Investment Authority. QIA just so happen to be the state-run sovereign wealth fund in Qatar.
As for the other state-owned club in football? That would be Manchester City – a club that came very close to signing Messi themselves this time last year. They are owned by the UAE’s Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
It’s strange to see Messi in different colours.Source:AFP
Qatar won the race to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in controversial circumstances. Allegations of bribery swirled as fans did a double-take when finding out the country would play host to the biggest football feast on the planet.
The nation found a way to upset the apple cart by forcing the World Cup to be hosted in November due to soaring temperatures in the European summer months. This places the tournament smack bang in the middle of domestic seasons right across Europe, creating a few headaches for football’s biggest leagues.
One cannot discuss the Qatar World Cup without mention of its human rights record. More than 1000 workers, many of them migrants from India and Nepal, have lost their lives while building stadiums for the World Cup. In March, players from Germany, Norway and the Netherlands wore shirts before World Cup qualifiers voicing concerns over human rights after The Guardian reported at least 6500 migrant workers had died in Qatar since it won hosting rights in 2010.
By playing for PSG, Messi is front and centre of Qatar’s PR push to give it more legitimacy on the world stage – which sport plays a significant role in.
As Daniel Storey wrote for iNews this week: “The 2022 World Cup, PSG’s progression, sponsorship deals with other super clubs; all were elements of sportswashing that sought to improve the superficial reputation of a state and sought to switch focus from the inherent problems within it.
“For them, Messi is the perfect bridge between PSG and the World Cup. There may be pressure for him to become an unofficial ambassador for the tournament.
“Messi has chosen a football club and a means of prolonging his high-level success. But Messi has also chosen Qatar, implicitly or otherwise. He is the new poster boy for a state sportswashing its way to global acceptance.”
Messi is gone from Barcelona two decades after he first arrived.Source:AFP
Global Professor of Eurasian Sport at Emlyon Business School in Paris, Simon Chadwick, also spoke of Messi’s importance to Qatar’s political ambitions.
“Its government is not afraid to use football as the means to achieving other political ends, of which PSG’s signing of Messi’s former Barcelona teammate Neymar is a prime example,” Chadwick wrote for The Conversation.
“It also symbolised how the government in Doha sees football as part of its soft power armoury, a way of engaging global audiences intrigued by the signing of football’s best talent.
“Some will view Lionel Messi signing for PSG in the same way. His expected contribution to the club’s success will ensure that Qatar’s projection of soft power continues, while the status, image and reputation of ‘brand Qatar’ are further burnished.”
James Dorsey, author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, believes the deal is Qatar yet again flexing its financial muscle in the region.
“Diplomatic ties have been restored but Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are still not as cordial and getting Messi ahead of City is a big thing statement; a feather in the cap ahead of the World Cup,” Dorsey told Dawn newspaper.
It’s not Messi’s first foray into playing an ambassadorial role for Qatar. Barcelona were sponsored by the Qatar Foundation from 2011 to 2013, then Qatar Airways from 2013 until 2017. Both companies featured on the front of Barcelona’s famous jersey.
But the switch to the French capital is a more significant and overt power play than just wearing a jersey.
Messi’s move to PSG reflects a sad reality about the shifting tides of football, as the rich grow richer while the rest fight over what little scraps remain. It’s a sorry state of affairs for the so called “beautiful game”.
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