“Messi loves the atmosphere of the Parco dei Principi,” says the Argentine’s biographer

Close to Leo Messi and his clan, Guillem Balague, author of a biography of La Pulga, published by Hugo Sport and translated into French last October, is one of the journalists who best knows the number 30 of Paris Saint Germain. While the extension of the Argentine is being worked on, as he had announced several weeks ago, Guillem Balague accepted for 20 minutes to return to the player’s comeback from the start of the season and his adaptation to the French capital.

After a first season in Paris far from his standards, since August we have found the real Leo Messi. Were you surprised to see him on such a level when many doubted his ability to make a comeback?

Honestly, I understand that people may have doubted because they don’t see the context that surrounds the player on a daily basis, the way he lives at home, what he can feel. Knowing him, I could see, just by looking at his face, that he wasn’t well during his first season at PSG. Also, he arrived injured, out of shape and contracted very severe Covid in the process (early January 2022), his lungs were affected, he could hardly continue his efforts.

We talked about it a lot, did Messi still experience a total upheaval in the summer of 2021, did he just need time to recover from his farewell to Barça?

Yes, absolutely. You feel comfortable in your environment, you have long since found your balance and suddenly everything changes. He told me at the time that he had assured his sons that he would stay at Barça, that the whole family would stay in Barcelona, ​​he even did a photo shoot with the new club shirt, and in the end everything changed. So it’s normal that when everything collapsed around him, it took 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 get back. He went from a very orderly and very simple life to something much more chaotic. Anyone other than him would have been affected by this situation. But today he is fine, he feels at home in Paris and inevitably it has been felt in his performances since the beginning of the season.

Are you happy in Paris?

Yes totally, sincerely. Again, it shows on her face. Leo can’t hide his feelings and today we see him well, happy, on and off the pitch, he plays more freely, his teammates have understood how to play with him, the ball passes him much more today. But what changed everything was above all his personal life. He has found a home, he really feels at home, and that’s the most important thing. Antonella works a lot and she is very happy in Paris, the children love their life here and learn French every day. They talk to his father at home to teach him some language. Sure, it’s not Castelldefels, there’s no beach, etc., but everyone feels very comfortable, they’ve found their balance.

That’s why before the World Cup, I announced that Leo was more inclined to extend in Paris than to leave at the end of his contract. Obviously he wanted to wait to see what would happen in Qatar and didn’t want to make a hasty decision, but that was his feeling about him before the World Championship. Today he is convinced he can win the Champions League with PSG and also aims to win his eighth Ballon d’Or. And while nothing is official yet, PSG and Messi have agreed on a one-year extension, plus another optional season.

In late December, Joan Laporta said he would like Messi to return to Barca. Did the club try anything?

Absolutely not. First of all, and I talk about it in my book, Messi didn’t like the way it ended with the club at all. Today there is no longer any relationship with Laporta, I know that the intermediaries between the two clans were still trying to build bridges and restore the channel of discussion, but he doesn’t 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 talk. I know Xavi would like to see him again, Laporta too, but at the moment there is nothing. Instead what I know is that Messi wants to stay in Europe and that he favors PSG.

Let’s go back to Paris, in fact. What do you think of the appointment of Christophe Galtier, a coach who is not necessarily known internationally?

When there is a change of coach, Messi is not in nostalgia for the old but in pragmatism. There might be a moment of doubt, of course, but he’ll analyze the profile of the new manager, the way he wants him to play and see if he can hang on or not. And the system that Galtier wanted to implement when he arrived immediately pleased Leo. Then you have to understand that there is hardly any coach in the world who can tell Leo what to do on the pitch. He knows it himself. It was a bit the same there at the beginning of the season. Galtier listened to him a lot, they talked a lot about how Leo wanted to evolve, or if he was comfortable with him, and in the end the two found each other on many points.

In a document for The Parisian, you mentioned a very good tactician Messi. To the point of engaging these matters with the coach and staff?

No, even if he can sometimes have his say when the coach asks him to, he’s not the type to intervene later in the tactical reflections of a coach and his staff or with his teammates in the locker room. But when you talk about soccer with him, you realize his knowledge of the game, he analyzes well and very fast, he watches a lot of matches, mainly the Argentinian and Spanish league. This is why I think that once his career is over he will remain in football, but more as a sports director than as a coach because above all he is someone who knows how to recognize talent in others.

What is your role in the dressing room in Paris?

Yes, it must be said, the PSG dressing room is very complicated (laughs)! It is very difficult for a coach to be able to keep a balance and please everyone. In all of this, Leo still managed to find his place but without ever leaving his role, the other managers, captain Marquinhos, Sergio Ramos or Mbappé, let the talk.

How he lived the branch of the Parkmainly against him and Neymar last season after the elimination against Real?

He was surprised, disappointed, resigned. People were looking for culprits and cutting corners without really analyzing each other’s responsibilities. The problem at PSG is whether it’s victory in the Champions League or disaster, everything is perceived through this prism and a 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 for an hour. After that, what happens is football. More than the reaction of the fans, I think PSG’s problem 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 the event of failure, the supporters’ refusal is violent. Messi was disappointed to see how the French title, which is important, especially as it was the tenth in the club’s history, was belittled by the fans.

He still doesn’t come to greet the ultras at the end of the matches, just like Neymar. We feel that the rift is deep…

The pill hasn’t gone through yet. What they experienced last season after Madrid, the booing of their fans, was something very difficult to live. So it’s normal to have trouble falling in love with an audience that didn’t want to understand that you needed time to adjust to Paris, to your new life, to this attacking trio never seen before in the history of football. But I’m sure that can change.

What do you think of the atmosphere of the Park?

He’s completely hallucinated! It was already like this the day he arrived at the airport, when he stuck his head out to greet the crowd and there were thousands, in the rain, welcoming him with flags and drums. And it is true that the atmosphere of the Parc des Princes has nothing to do with what he experienced for almost 15 years at the Camp Nou and loves it. This noise, these smoke smells, is something very ingrained in Argentine culture and I know he enjoys playing in this stadium.

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