Saturday, November 27

PSG fans overflow with the luxury of Lionel Messi’s brilliant moment | Champions League

And so it happened. With 73 minutes left, he finally showed up.

Lionel Messi had done very little during the last 20 minutes at the Parc des Princes. A promising first half had given way to one of those protracted stints where Messi resembles a man feigning polite interest as he wanders through a notoriously disappointing flea market.

Instead, Messi watched and waited as Manchester City applied their own pressure, 1-0 down, and always, but not quite, on the verge of almost, but not quite, finding the tie.

Even this latest Messi model is never really out of these games. The thing about him, the unique quality of Messi’s brilliance, is that you never run out of it. There are always more of these things, unopened boxes, wells, deep reservoirs.

In the 73rd minute he read the moment and it began to emerge, taking the ball into the right inner channel and whizzing up through the gears as space appeared, three white jerseys spinning and shifting and losing their shape in front of him.

By now he could see the angles opening up, he could see the corner of the goal, file it down on the frontal lobe, the pieces moving in front of him. There was a kind of low-level groan, one of those moments before a thunderclap where suddenly everyone present, if they look closely, has a premonition; a look at Messi-vision.

Kylian Mbappé produced a nice lure run, then a lovely touch on Messi’s trail. Messi Messi did not break the step, then he placed the ball, massaged it, tickled the top corner, bulging the net with a charming and sensual accent.

And of course the place went crazy. It was a wonderful goal. Soccer fields always go crazy. However, this was different, and also a strange moment. There was something sticky about it, not so much a pure sporting thrill, the completion of a long-standing plan, as a kind of consumer euphoria.

People in the crowd turned to look at each other, held their phones up, savoring their own premium experience, a succeeding luxury brand. The stadium announcer, now completely beside himself, was ready with the call and the answer.

Lionel Messi beats the defenders and the City goalkeeper
Lionel Messi beats the defenders and the City goalkeeper Photograph: Matthias Hangst / Getty Images

“Lionel … MESSI, Lionel … MESSI, Lionel … MESSI.” He was affectionate, dizzy and cheerful, a crowd unbuckling their belts and filling their faces with the spectacle, a kind of gluttony from Messi. And this was an exciting Champions League soccer game. Manchester City were perhaps unlucky enough to lose, and certainly unlucky enough to lose 2-0. At times, this felt like a meeting of a team doomed to make endless chances it can’t take, against one that was all incision, all whiplash.

Before kickoff, the only news in town was that Messi would be a starter, regardless of his left knee throbbing. So Paris sent that team. The one with the players. He looked quite “divided” on paper, but divided in a compelling way, with that trio of outsized talents on the attack, backed by a compact-looking three midfield.

For the City Bernardo Silva and Rodri returned to form the axis of the midfield. Riyad Mahrez, the local boy, came in from the right, with Raheem Sterling an uncomfortable central striker.

Paris is a recovering city that still cautiously removes its mask (outdoors). On a sunny match day afternoon, the streets around the Parc des Princes were filled with Parisians dressed in replicas, Messi’s jerseys, Messi’s flags, Messi’s children, curious Messi’s families, and inside this concrete bowl Brutalist was the familiar rolling cauldron of songs, thunder and giant flags that shine through the ultras ending before the start.

But the beginning was all City, dressed in their white away uniform and assertive in those initial moments. When four minutes had elapsed, Messi still hadn’t touched the ball, instead hopping eagerly, head held high, offering only his own signature energy, those regal vibes. His first real run with the ball was met with an enthusiastic wall of noise.

With seven minutes elapsed, there was another brief roar as Messi played a simple pass to Mbappé, suddenly free in vast open spaces on the right. Its recoil bounced around the city area, before Idrissa Gueye violently returned it to the upper corner, its second bolt at that end in the past three days.

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The park exploded, sending huge rumbling sound waves around that steep ledge. Messi was in this game now, dropping deep to the right, spinning toward the center circle, catching the ball in small spaces and gliding calmly, like a majestic manager channeling the chaos of timeout.

The city really should have matched. Somehow Sterling hit the bar when he should have nodded towards the top corner, then Silva hit the bar again from the bounce.

But in the blinks you could see the shape of something else emerging in this PSG team, which has never lacked anything more than a small conviction of a champion. In the end, Messi had touched the ball 60 times, had a good time, and produced that moment of brilliance. The interaction with Mbappé had seemed potent at times, though less so with Neymar, who seemed to be playing much of the game with a pair of oversized fishing waders. Although mainly there was a feeling here of that shared premium moment and of Messi 2.0 taking his first significant steps.

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