Lionel Messi finally signed his eagerly anticipated Paris Saint-Germain contract on Tuesday night to complete the move that confirms the end of a career-long association with Barcelona and sends PSG into a new era. The French club said in a statement that the 34-year-old Argentina star signed a two-year deal with the option for a third season. “I am excited to begin a new chapter of my career at Paris Saint-Germain,” Messi said. “Everything about the club matches my football ambitions. I know how talented the squad and the coaching staff are here. I am determined to help build something special for the club and the fans, and I am looking forward to stepping out onto the pitch at the Parc des Princes.” Read: Lionel Messi is Leaving Barcelona Despite Wanting to Stay No salary details were given, but a person with knowledge of the negotiations earlier told The Associated Press that Messi is set to earn around 35 million euros ($41 million) net annually. The person said on condition of anonymity before the contract was signed. “I am delighted that Lionel Messi has chosen to join Paris Saint-Germain and we are proud to welcome him and his family to Paris,” PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi said. “He has made no secret of his desire to continue competing at the very highest level and winning trophies, and naturally our ambition as a club is to do the same.” It is symbolic that Messi will wear the No. 30 jersey — the same number he wore in his first two seasons with Barcelona before switching to No. 19 and then the prized No. 10, which Neymar gets to keep at PSG. Throngs of PSG fans gathered at Le Bourget Airport in Paris to welcome Messi, who was wearing a T-shirt featuring “Ici c’est Paris” — “This is Paris.” The words are a long-familiar refrain from a favored fan chant at Parc des Princes stadium, where Messi is to be presented to them before kickoff of Saturday night’s game against Strasbourg. Such was the fervor of his arrival that police had to push back to stop metal barriers from toppling over at the airport as fans surged forward to get a better view. He then traveled into Paris with a police escort that included several officers on motorbikes and clad in black at the back of it. As disbelief at landing one of soccer’s all-time greats turned to sheer enthusiasm, many gathered for a glimpse of Messi at the stadium. They got their wish as the smiling superstar briefly waved to them before he underwent a medical check. Earlier, Messi’s father and agent, Jorge, had also confirmed his son was moving to PSG in a brief exchange with reporters at Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport before he took his flight in the early afternoon. Messi arrived with his wife and three children and boarded a private jet. Read: Messi breaks down, says he wasn’t ready to leave Barcelona “With it all, toward a new adventure. The five together,” Antonela Roccuzzo said on Instagram alongside a photo with her husband on the plane. PSG supporters have seen their club transformed over the last decade since the influx of Qatari sovereign wealth investment linked to the emir. Once Messi’s Barcelona contract expired — and the Catalan club was unable to afford to keep him — PSG was one of the few clubs that could finance a deal to sign the six-time world player of the year. Messi’s arrival gives PSG formidable attacking options as he links up with France World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe and Brazil forward Neymar. “Back together,” Neymar posted on Instagram over a video of them hugging, playing for Barcelona. While PSG had to pay 222 million euros (then $261 million) to sign Neymar from Barcelona in 2017, there was no transfer fee for Messi. Messi became the most desired free agent in soccer history after his attempts to stay at Barcelona were rejected last week by the Spanish league because the salary would not comply with financial regulations, with the Catalan club burdened by debts of more than 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion). PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino quickly made contact with his fellow Argentine after Barcelona announced last Thursday that Messi would be leaving the club he joined as a 13-year-old. Messi won every major honor with Barcelona and was granted a tearful exit news conference on Sunday to signal the end of an era. Only Cristiano Ronaldo in the current era challenges Messi’s status as an all-time great. PSG will be hoping not only that Messi helps the team regain the French title it lost to Lille last season but finally win the Champions League. Read: Lionel Messi Contract: PSG Set to Sign Former Barcelona Forward If Pochettino uses a 4-3-3 formation, the front three could see Messi deployed on the right with Neymar on the left and Mbappe between them as the center forward. The quandary for Pochettino would be how to use Angel Di Maria, whose goal sealed the Copa America title last month, and another Argentine attacker — Mauro Icardi. It’s a tactical challenge most coaches would relish, with a 4-2-3-1 or 3-5-2 also in the mix to accommodate the attacking talents available. What should be less demanding is PSG complying with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play. Some flexibility has been provided in the rules due to the pandemic and changes are due to the system that were designed to stem losses. It is PSG president Al-Khelaifi who, as chairman of the European Club Association and a member of UEFA’s executive committee, is involved in the process of discussing a wider update to FFP that could allow more unchecked spending again.
Disputed, locked down and running a year late, the Tokyo Games begin at last on Friday night, a multinational showcase of the finest athletes of a world fragmented by disease — and an event steeped in the political and medical baggage of a relentless pandemic whose presence haunts every Olympic corner. As the first pandemic Games in a century convene largely without spectators and opposed by much of the host nation, the disbelief and anger of those kept outside the near-deserted national stadium threaten to drown out the usual carefully packaged glitz and soaring rhetoric about sports and peace that are the hallmarks of the opening ceremony. “‘The festival of peace’ is now starting in an unimaginably disastrous state,” the Asahi newspaper said in an editorial, citing “confusion, distrust and unease.” Hand in hand with this feeling of calamity is a fundamental question about these Games as Japan, and large parts of the world, reel from the continuing gut punch of a pandemic that is stretching well into its second year, with cases in Tokyo approaching record highs this week: Will it be enough? Read: Olympics, pandemic and politics: There’s no separating them “It,” in this case, is the product that’s being packaged and sold, the commodity that has saved past Olympics when they’ve become mired in problems: the deep, intrinsic human attachment to the spectacle of sporting competition at the highest possible level. Time and again, previous opening ceremonies have pulled off something that approaches magic. Scandals — bribery in Salt Lake City, censorship and pollution in Beijing, doping in Sochi — fade into the background when the sports begin. But with people still falling ill and dying each day from the coronavirus, there’s a particular urgency to the questions about whether the Olympic flame can burn away the fear or provide a measure of catharsis — and even awe — after a year of suffering and uncertainty in Japan and around the world. The sports have already begun — softball and soccer, for example — and some of the focus is turning toward the competition to come. Can the U.S. women’s soccer team, for instance, even after an early, shocking loss to Sweden, become the first to win an Olympics following a World Cup victory? Can Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama win gold in golf after becoming the first Japanese player to win the Masters? Will Italy’s Simona Quadarella challenge American standout Katie Ledecky in the 800- and 1,500-meter freestyle swimming races? For now, however, it’s hard to miss how unusual these Games promise to be. The lovely national stadium is an isolated militarized zone, surrounded by huge barricades. Roads around it are sealed and businesses closed. Read:Australia’s Brisbane selected to host 2032 Summer Olympic Games Inside, the feeling of sanitized, locked-down quarantine carries over. Fans, who would normally be screaming for their countries and mixing with people from around the world, have been banned, leaving only a carefully screened contingent of journalists, officials, athletes and participants. Olympics often face opposition, but there’s also usually a pervasive feeling of national pride. Japan’s resentment centers on the belief that it was strong-armed into hosting — forced to pay billions and risk the health of a largely unvaccinated, deeply weary public — so the IOC can collect its billions in media revenue. “Sometimes people ask why the Olympics exist, and there are at least two answers. One is they are a peerless global showcase of the human spirit as it pertains to sport, and the other is they are a peerless global showcase of the human spirit as it pertains to aristocrats getting luxurious hotel rooms and generous per diems,” Bruce Arthur, a sports columnist for the Toronto Star, wrote recently. How did we get here? A quick review of the past year and a half seems operatic in its twists and turns. A once-in-a-century pandemic forces the postponement of the 2020 version of the Games. A fusillade of scandals (sexism and other discrimination and bribery claims, overspending, ineptitude, bullying) unfolds. People in Japan, meanwhile, watch bewildered as an Olympics considered a bad idea by many scientists actually takes shape. “We will continue to try to have this dialogue with the Japanese people knowing we will not succeed 100%. That would be putting the bar too high,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. “But we’re also confident that once the Japanese people see the Japanese athletes performing in these Olympic Games — hopefully successfully — that then the attitude will become less emotional.” Japanese athletes, freed from onerous travel rules and able to train more normally, may indeed enjoy a nice boost over their rivals in some cases, even without fans. Judo, a sport that Japan is traditionally a powerhouse in, will begin Saturday, giving the host nation a chance for early gold. Read:Japan girds for a surreal Olympics, and questions are plenty Still, while it’s possible that “people may come out of the Olympics feeling good about themselves and about Japan having hosted the Games against all odds,” Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, believes that such a scenario “is way too optimistic.” The reality, for now, is that the delta variant of the virus is still rising, straining the Japanese medical system in places, and raising fears of an avalanche of cases. Only a little over 20% of the population is fully vaccinated. And there have been near daily reports of positive virus cases within the so-called Olympic bubble that’s meant to separate the Olympic participants from the worried, skeptical Japanese population. For a night, at least, the glamor and message of hope of the opening ceremonies may distract many global viewers from the surrounding anguish and anger. “But for the Japanese people, who will have a much more direct experience and feel more viscerally the empty stadiums and the strange contrast between this spectacle and their own continued struggles with controlling the pandemic, it may not have the same impact,” said Daniel Sneider, a lecturer in East Asian Studies at Stanford University.
All the years of hurt, England fans sing about it. All that sense of entitlement, rival fans are irritated by it. After decades of embarrassment and moaning at tournaments, the English have a chance to finally back up the bravado — just listen to the team anthem, “Football’s Coming Home” — with a trophy. The nation that lays claim to being the inventor of soccer, but is more fittingly one of the sport’s great underachievers, is back in a final — against Italy in the European Championships. Read:Italy beats Spain on penalties, reaches Euro 2020 final The teams will meet Sunday night at Wembley Stadium in London where England will be going for its first major title since winning the 1966 World Cup on their home field. The Italians are unbeaten in 33 games. It’s been 55 agonizing years for England through 26 World Cups and European Championship tournaments, seven of which they didn’t even qualify for. Even less illustrious national teams like Denmark and Greece have won trophies since then. But England became all about falling short on a world stage it felt it should dominate. Beating Denmark on Wednesday broke through the semifinal obstacle at least in the Euros, prevailing 2-1 in extra time and avoiding the penalty shootouts that have proved to be the team’s nemesis through all those near-misses. “What a brilliant moment for us,” England coach Gareth Southgate said on the field with fans still singing into the night at Wembley. Let’s savior this.” No way were the England players missing out on the chance to lap up the acclaim of a crowd waiting for this healing moment, not only to reach a final again but to gather in such big numbers again as the pandemic-restricted capacity swelled to 66,000. “It’s too late,” Southgate quipped discussing any attempt to curtail the exuberance. “We all let ourselves down on the pitch.” The celebrations were a reflection of the bond the coach has forged between the national team and an English public that seemed disillusioned with the hubris and dreary performances before Southgate’s overhaul began in 2016. Read:Longtime tormentor Italy stands in way of Spain at Euro 2020 Leading England to a final is proving cathartic for the coach who as a player missed the decisive penalty in the Euro ’96 semifinal penalty shootout against Germany. It was that tournament that saw the introduction of the England “Three Lions” song talking of “30 years of hurt.” It’s never easy for England. Even when the path to the Euro 2020 semifinals seemed smooth — even the 2-0 win over archrival Germany — Southgate was prepared for difficulties against Denmark, especially after losing the 2018 World Cup semifinal to Croatia and being beaten in the 2019 Nations League last four by the Netherlands. “I knew it might be a tortuous path,” Southgate said. “In the end it’s a wonderful evening for our fans, for our public and for our country.” Southgate sees his role as more delivering for a nation, assuming leadership status beyond sport when he talked about unity during the divisive Brexit debate and now encourages the players to use their platforms to promote social causes and campaign against racism. Southgate is more than just an orator, though. Only 1966 Word Cup winner Alf Ramsey has been a more successful coach of England. The expensive imports at the start of the century — Sven-Göran Eriksson and Fabio Capello — could get no further than quarterfinals. Instead, a manager whose only club job ended in 2009 with relegation from the Premier League with Middlesbrough has led England to a final. For all his popular support — “Southgate you’re the one,” fans sing — he resists pandering to fans’ demands of selecting players. National hero Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United striker who has won acclaim for challenging the government, didn’t even come off the bench for the biggest game of his career. He ignored calls to drop Raheem Sterling at the start of Euro 2020 and has been rewarded with three goals from the winger who also forced the own-goal that tied the game 1-all against Denmark. Southgate stayed calm as England held on, only making only substitution when five were available to him in the 90 minutes before extra time. Read:Euro2020 semi-finalists have been determined “The opposition were constantly changing tactics,” Southgate said. “Sometimes it is bolder to do nothing ... the risk is you don’t do anything, it goes against you but we were causing problems.” Problems in a way that England has not done for decades. “It’s one of the proudest moments in my life,” said captain Harry Kane, who netted the winner from a rebound after his penalty was saved. “But we haven’t won it yet, we’ve got one more to go.”
Facing a wall of nervous blue-and-white clad Italy fans behind the goal, Jorginho took his trademark hop and skip before calmly stroking in the winning penalty. So much for the pressure of a shootout in the European Championship semifinals. A dash of Italian panache completed a 4-2 penalty-shootout win over Spain at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday, setting up a title match against either England or Denmark back at the same stadium on Sunday. The match finished 1-1 after extra time and provided Italy with its toughest test of the tournament, with Spain controlling possession for long periods. Federico Chiesa scored for Italy with a curling shot in the 60th minute but substitute Alvaro Morata equalized for Spain in the 80th. Read:Longtime tormentor Italy stands in way of Spain at Euro 2020 Morata, dropped from the starting lineup for the first time in a tournament during which he has received verbal abuse and even death threats from his own fans, will go down as Spain’s scapegoat once again after having a penalty saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma in the next-to-last kick of the shootout. As he walked back to the center circle with his head bowed, Jorginho made the opposite journey and didn’t make the same mistake. The Chelsea midfielder has his own style when it comes to taking penalties and he didn’t abandon it when it mattered most, sparking a throng of celebrations as Italy’s players sprinted from the halfway line. Jorginho was mobbed. Italy coach Roberto Mancini was hugged by the rest of coaching staff. The players lined up on the edge of the area and ran together, holding hands, toward the fans. Leonardo Bonucci went further, leaping over the advertising hoardings to get even closer to the crazed supporters whose loud cheering had lifted the team in their most difficult moments. “We’re delighted we could provide this wonderful entertainment to the Italian people,” Mancini said. “One game to go.” Riding a national record unbeaten run of 33 games, Italy will play in its fourth European final and look to win the title for a second time, after 1968. It’s quite the redemption story for a country which failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. “This group is amazing,” Mancini said. “Everyone wants to win, but this group of players wanted to do something special.” Read:Euro2020 semi-finalists have been determined They have had the aura of champions since Day 1 of the tournament and they’ll be sticking around until the last day, too. But it’s at the home of English soccer where the team has had its toughest matches. Against Austria in the round of 16, the Italians were taken to extra time at Wembley and they had to go the distance, too, against Spain. Spain’s striker-free formation initially flummoxed the Azzurri, who have become a more progressive team under Mancini but were given a clinic at times in ball possession and movement in midfield. Experienced center backs Giorgio Chiellini and Bonucci looked uncertain at times, not knowing whether to drop back or follow deep-lying forward Dani Olmo — who started ahead of Morata — into the center of midfield. Spain’s pressing also drew some rash clearances from the back from Italy. That created the team’s best chance in the first half with Ferran Torres’ shot requiring a low save from Donnarumma. The Italians had even more problems when Morata came on as a substitute but, by then, Chiesa had put them ahead after latching onto a loose ball, cutting inside and curling a shot into the far corner. It was his second goal at Wembley in this tournament, having scored just as impressively against Austria. Morata’s movement stretched Italy’s defense to set up chances for Mikel Oyarzabal and Olmo. Then he scored for the third time at Euro 2020. For a player often accused of wasting chances when he has too much time in front of goal, Morata showed calmness to sidefoot in a left-footed shot after exchanging passes with Olmo at the edge of the area. Morata grabbed a camera behind the goal and thrust his face into it. But he had nowhere to hide after becoming the second Spain player to miss in the shootout — after Olmo — following 30 minutes of extra time. Read:Denmark beats Czechs 2-1 to reach Euro 2020 semifinals “He really has a lot of personality,” Spain coach Luis Enrique said of Morata. “He wanted to take a penalty even though he’s been through some tough times in this competition.” Italy started the shootout with Manuel Locatelli’s shot saved by Unai Simon, but Andrea Belotti, Bonucci and Federico Bernardeschi all scored before Jorginho. Spain, a three-time European champion, beat Switzerland in a penalty shootout just to get to Wembley. Having also been taken to extra time by Croatia in the last 16, the Spanish certainly took the long route to the semifinals but their journey ended there. “Everyone made Italy big favorites,” Spain midfielder Sergio Busquets said, “but we demonstrated we were superior to them.”