Ultras get their protest on near PSG’s HQ
When Leo Messi hoisted the World Cup trophy towards the sky a week before Christmas, he had the air of a man who had no more effs left to give. And why would he? Like a combination of Eric Bristow and Alexander the Great in an overblown Sid Waddell simile, the man had no more worlds left to conquer … unless of course you count Saudi Arabia, who are paying him £25m per year to shill for them as a tourism ambassador, a sum not even a man richer than Scrooge McDuck doing the backstroke in a pool full of gold doubloons would turn down lightly for an occasional enforced invasion. It’s an ostensibly cushy gig; bank the loot, then travel en famille to pose for a series of photos in which you grin alongside some palm-weavers, gazelles and an underwhelmed falcon at the behest of the Saudi Tourism Authority (STA). Job done.
And if fulfilling those obligations means copping a two-week suspension and comparatively small fine from the Qatari-owned club of serially underachieving superstars you’re part of, don’t worry because the Saudi government will offer you £320m per year to come and play in their league when you become a free agent in two months’ time. “Messi and his family immersed themselves in the history of this unique destination, taking in the Arabian Horse Museum after interacting with some magnificent pure-bred Arabian horses,” read the official account of the Messi family’s mini-break from the STA, in what was perhaps a less-than-subtle hint that the Argentinian will spend next season playing in the same league as a more familiar preening show-pony.
A messy business, all told
Meanwhile back in Paris, his apparently inevitable summer exit from PSG didn’t stop a number of ultras from turning up at the club’s HQ to wave flares, chant rude refrains about his maternal lineage, the management and their Qatari owners, in protest after their team’s recent defeat at the hands of Lorient. And despite being completely blameless for that particular embarrassment considering he’s been knacked for more than two months, Neymar wasn’t spared the mob’s wrath either as a sizeable proportion of fans turned up at his villa in Bougival to demand he leave, in the strongest possible terms.
“Paris Saint-Germain most strongly condemns the intolerable and insulting actions of a small group of individuals that took place on Wednesday,” parped a statement put out by the club. “Whatever the differences of opinion, nothing justifies such actions. The club gives its full support to its players, its staff and all those targeted by such shameful behaviour.” For Neymar, reportedly more used to having large crowds inside his house causing a racket, Wednesday’s protest may have come as a surprise. “It’s prodigiously annoying,” tooted the local mayor a couple of months ago, when complaining about the din that occasionally emanates from his Brazilian neighbour’s party house. One suspects he may have turned a deaf ear to these latest protests, in the hope it may lead to another high-profile exit and longer-term tranquility this summer.