Lionel Messi's future has long appeared to lie elsewhere than France and Paris Saint-Germain and now it is official: the legendary Argentine is leaving Paris when his contract ends at the end of June and this weekend will be his final game with the French champions.
PSG head coach Christophe Galtier told the press ahead of Saturday's season closer against Clermont Foot and confirmed Messi's exit while expressing appreciation for having had the opportunity to coach the FIFA 2022 World Cup winner who secured the club's record 11th Ligue 1 title with his 496th goal across Europe's top five leagues -- also a record.
"It has been my privilege to coach the best player in soccer history," said Galtier. "Saturday will be his final game at Parc des Princes and I hope that he will be greeted in the best possible way as much has been said about Leo. He has been an important figure this year, always available and I do not think that all of the criticism has been justified. It has been an absolute privilege to work alongside him this season."
Had Galtier just said the first part of the sentence, it could have been interpreted differently -- the French tactician's own future in Paris is uncertain after domestic struggles, further Champions League disappointment and personal controversy. Revealing that Messi is to play his final game is a major development after weeks and months of speculation during which PSG have been tight-lipped.
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Messi is now expected to choose between a lucrative move to Saudi Arabia, an emotional return to Barcelona or a possible fresh start with Inter Miami in Major League Soccer -- possibly even a combination of two or more of those options. The World Cup winner remains an Argentina international, though, looking to defend their Copa America title in the summer of 2024 which will factor into his decision.
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The chances of Messi being afforded a huge send-off in Paris, as well as a celebration of teammate Kylian Mbappe's latest UNFP title, should be tempered by the tragic situation of goalkeeper Sergio Rico who remains in hospital in Spain after an accident over the weekend which has impacted everybody at the capital club.
"It weighs heavily on our hearts and we have to transmit positive energy whenever we can -- to his family, parents, wife and loved ones," said Galtier. "It is extremely difficult. Players keep asking for news and we need to have hope, to stay positive and to send energy to Sergio who is a top guy and a fighter. You have to believe in life and in medicine, but it has been an extremely tough week going from champagne celebrations to that."