“Messi loved the atmosphere of the Parc des Princes”, said the Argentinian’s biographer
Close to Leo Messi and his clan, Guillem Balague, the author of a biography of La Pulga, published by Hugo Sport and translated into French in October, is one of the journalists who best knows the number 30 of Paris Saint Germain. While the Argentinian’s extension is being made, as he announced in a few weeks, Guillem Balague accepted for 20 minutes to return to the player’s return to the forefront since the beginning of the season and his adaptation to the French capital.
After a first season in Paris that was far from its standards, we have found the real Leo Messi since August. Were you surprised to see him at that level when many doubted his ability to return to the forefront?
Honestly, I understand that people might have doubts because they don’t see the context that surrounds the player every day, the way he lives at home, how he feels. Me, knowing him, I could see, just by looking at his face, that he was not good during his first season at PSG. In addition, he arrived injured, out of shape and he contracted a very severe Covid in the process (early January 2022), his lungs were affected, he could hardly continue his effort.
We talked a lot, Messi still experienced a total upheaval in the summer of 2021, does he just need time to recover from his departure from Barça?
Yes, absolutely. You are comfortable in your surroundings, you have long found your balance, and suddenly everything changes. He told me at the time that he assured his children that he would stay in Barça, that the whole little family would stay in Barcelona, eventually everything changed. . So it’s normal that when everything around him falls, it takes him a long time to recover, it doesn’t happen overnight. The change in the children’s lives, school in Paris, an hour’s drive for Leo to go to training, an hour to return. He went from a very orderly, very simple life to something more chaotic. Anyone in his area will be affected by this situation. But now he is good, he feels at home in Paris and it can’t be felt from the beginning of the season in his performances.
Is he happy in Paris?
Yes absolutely, sincerely. Again, it shows on his face. Leo cannot hide his feelings and now we see him well, happy, on and off the pitch, he plays in a freer way, his teammates understand the way to play with him, the ball is more than him now. . But what changed most of all was his personal life. He found a home, he really feels at home, and that’s the most important thing. Antonella works hard and feels very good in Paris, the children love their life here and learn French every day. They speak it to their father at home to teach him a little of the language. Admittedly, not Castelldefels, no beach, etc., but they are all very good, they found their balance.
That’s why before the World Cup, I announced that Leo is more likely to extend in Paris than to leave at the end of his contract. He obviously wants to wait and see what happens in Qatar and doesn’t want to rush into a decision, but that’s how he feels before the World Cup. Now he is convinced that he can win the Champions League with PSG and also aims to win his eighth Ballon d’Or. And although nothing is official yet, PSG and Messi have agreed to a one-year extension, with another optional season.
At the end of December, Joan Laporta said he wanted Messi to return to Barca. Has the club tried anything?
Definitely not. First of all, and I talk about this in my book, Messi didn’t like the way it ended at the club. Now there is no longer any relationship with Laporta, I know that the mediators between the two clans still tried to build bridges and restore the channel of discussion, but he does not want to hear about it. Contrary to what we heard before the World Cup, there is no plan for Barça to bring Messi back, just words. I know Xavi wants to see him, Laporta too, but so far nothing. On the other hand, what I know is that Messi wants to stay in Europe and he favors PSG.
Let’s go back to Paris, exactly. What did he think of the appointment of Christophe Galtier, a coach not known around the world?
When there is a change of coach, Messi is not in nostalgia for the old but in pragmatism. There may be a moment of doubt, of course, but he will analyze the profile of the new coach, the way he wants him to play, and see if he can stay or not. And the system that Galtier wanted to put in place when he arrived immediately pleased Leo. Then, you have to understand that almost no coach in the world can tell Leo what to do on the pitch. He knows himself. There, it’s pretty much the same as the beginning of the season. Galtier listened to him a lot, they talked a lot about how Leo wanted to improve, or whether he was comfortable, and finally the two found themselves on many points.
In a paper for The Parisian, you mentioned a great tactician Messi. To the point of getting involved in these issues with the coach and the staff?
No, although he can sometimes give his opinion when the coach asks him to, he is not the type to interfere in the tactical deliberations of a coach and his staff or with his teammates in the locker room. But when you talk about football with him, you realize his knowledge of the game, he studies well and very quickly, he watches a lot of matches, mainly the Argentinian and Spanish championships. That’s why I think that when his career is over, he will stay in football, but more as a sporting director than as a coach because above all he knows how to recognize talent in others.
What is his role in the locker room in Paris?
That, it must be said, the PSG locker room is very complicated (laughs)! It is very complicated for a coach to manage to keep the balance and to satisfy everyone. In all this, Leo still managed to find his place but without being removed from his role, they let the other leaders speak, captain Marquinhos, Sergio Ramos or Mbappé.
How he lived Park’s broncamainly against him and Neymar last season after the elimination against Real?
He was surprised, disappointed, resigned. People look for culprits and take shortcuts without really examining each other’s responsibilities. The problem with PSG is success in the Champions League or disaster, everything is seen through this prism and premature elimination immediately becomes a disaster. However, PSG’s two best matches last season were against Real Madrid in the first leg, and at the Bernabeu within an hour. Then, what happens is football. More than the reaction of the fans, I think that the problem of PSG is to focus only on winning the Champions League, it’s an obsession and I think it’s the only club in Europe that works like this. Therefore, in case of failure, the rejection of supporters is violent. Messi was disappointed to see how the fans underestimated the French title, which was important, especially since it was the tenth in the club’s history.
He still doesn’t come to greet the ultras at the end of matches, like Neymar. We feel deeply fractured…
The pill hasn’t passed yet. What they experienced last season after Madrid, the whistles of their own public, it was something very difficult to live with. So it’s normal to have trouble falling in love with an audience that doesn’t want to understand that you need time to adapt to Paris, to your new life, to this unprecedented attacking trio in the history of football. But I’m sure that will change.
What does he think of the environment of the Park?
He was completely hallucinating! This was the case the day he arrived at the airport, when he raised his head to greet the public and there were thousands of them, in the rain, to welcome him with flags and drums. And it’s true that the atmosphere of the Parc des Princes has nothing to do with what he experienced in almost 15 years at Camp Nou and he likes it. This noise, the smells of smoke, this is something that is very anchored in Argentine culture and I know that he gets a kick out of playing in this stadium.