The Santiago Bernabeu has been the setting of many great moments for Lionel Messi over the course of his career. Indeed, the Argentine has scored more goals at the home of Real Madrid (15) than at the home of any other opposition team. When they close their eyes, Los Blancos fans still see Messi holding his Barca shirt to the stands following an iconic Clasico hat trick in 2017.
Of course, there were no such scenes earlier this month as Messi struggled to make a mark in Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League last 16 defeat to Real Madrid. While Kylian Mbappe scored in the 3-1 loss and Neymar threatened, Messi was a peripheral figure. He was a shadow of his former self.
This has been a common theme this season. After the trauma of Messi’s shock departure from Barcelona last summer faded, there was great excitement over the impact he would make in the French capital. At PSG, he would be a part of the most formidable frontline ever assembled. Many predicted Messi’s move to the Parc des Prince would help him stay at the elite level for longer.
Now, there isn’t much evidence to support that theory. While Messi found the back of the net five times in seven Champions League appearances, he has just two goals in 18 Ligue 1 games this season. The moments of magic that were a regular occurrence for Messi as a Barcelona player have been fewer and much further between for him at PSG.
It’s not just in Messi’s goalscoring numbers that his decline is obvious. There has been a certain joylessness to his play for PSG. His body language paints the picture of a player, and a person, who still hasn’t got to grips with what happened last summer. The Parc des Princes doesn’t yet feel like him for the 34-year-old.
PSG’s fans haven’t embraced Messi in the way most expected they would. In fact, the Argentinean international, along with Neymar, was booed in the match after PSG’s calamitous elimination from the Champions League. Some supporters have even stated they would prefer Messi to leave the club after only one season.
“No, for me it’s unfair,” PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino said after the booing incident. “We all deserve this anger from the fans, not just Neymar and Messi, they are two world-class players. They must therefore be respected. When we lose or win, it’s always as a team. We can understand the frustration, the disappointment of our supporters.”
Messi hasn’t even completed his first full season at PSG, but it would be best for all concerned if this experiment was called off. After the events of the last few weeks, there is a growing sense PSG will change tact this summer with fans calling for a more holistic approach. They want homegrown players to be given an opportunity. Messi’s presence at the club won’t fit with this.
Any sense of regret Messi feels over his decision to sign for PSG is surely exacerbated by the success Barcelona have enjoyed in his absence. The Catalans look to have turned the corner under Xavi Hernandez, underlined by their 4-0 demolition of Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Barca have moved on from Messi, but Messi almost certainly hasn’t moved on from Barca. If there is a way back to the Camp Nou for the 34-year-old, he would surely take it. And PSG might well be open to the idea such is the strength of feeling at the club that a new approach must be taken. Both Messi and PSG can now see their mistake.