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It’s a crying shame Messi had to go

Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP/Getty Images

After 20 years at Barcelona, Lionel Messi has reluctantly packed his bags and moved to Paris Saint-Germain. “From my side I did everything to stay – that is what I wanted,” the six-time Ballon d’Or winner said tearfully on Sunday after failing to agree a new contract with the Spanish club he joined when he was 13. By the time he was unveiled at PSG on Wednesday, he had steadied himself. “I feel very happy,” he said. “My goal and my dream is to win the Champions League once more.”

The last person anyone should blame for his exit is Lionel Messi, says Jonathan Liew in The Guardian. People will ask: “If he loved Barcelona so much, why not play for them for free?” But the best footballer of his generation had already agreed a 50% pay cut. The earning window for elite sportsmen is “vanishingly short”, and the value they generate for others – owners, sponsors, agents, broadcasters, private equity firms – is immense. Even if Messi had given up his entire wage, Barcelona’s “enormous debts” mean they wouldn’t have been able to register him under the Spanish league’s Financial Fair Play rules.

The saga shows how Gulf riches have divided football’s rich and its super-rich, says Tariq Panja in The New York Times. Barcelona is the biggest name in the sport, but its finances have been so poorly managed that the wage bill stands at 110% of revenue. When it emerged last week that a deal with Messi was impossible, PSG, the “French soccer powerhouse bankrolled by the state of Qatar”, stepped in. The Argentinian has signed a two-year contract and will earn a reported €35m a season.

The intercontinental fallout has been astonishing, says Daniel Alarcón in The New Yorker. Something as “banal as a player changing clubs after running out of his contract” move was deemed “worthy of a push alert” from even America’s main news outlets. My compatriots will have wondered why grown men were “posting videos of themselves weeping against the gates of the Camp Nou”, Barcelona’s stadium. But I get it. Wherever Messi goes, millions of fans will follow. “Hundreds of millions of dollars, as well.”

What’s the big secret? 

⚽️ 🤭 Footballers always hold their hands over their mouths when talking to rival players, says Stuart James in The Athletic. Why? “These days, with the technology and what cameras pick up, it’s so easy for people to lip-read, and that could cause problems”, a player whose opening game of the season is live on Sky tells me. But that doesn’t explain why it’s caught on several tiers down the football pyramid “and – wait for it – in kids’ football too”. It’s hard to escape the feeling that, most of the time, the players are discussing something mundane, but enjoy cultivating an air of mystery.

A telling declaration

🏏 Bangladesh’s cricketers thrashed Australia by 60 runs in a T20 match in Dhaka on Monday, wrapping up a 4-1 series win. Mighty Australia has truly lost its fear factor: “Let’s get this over with,” wicketkeeper Nurul Hasan was overheard saying in Bengali by the stump mic, as the hosts dismissed Australia for a dismal 62. “I’d like to get home early.”