The PSG president was insulted by Barcelona fans furious over the French club’s public pursuit of Lionel Messi before the two European superpowers clash tomorrow night.
Mauricio Pochettino will take charge of his first Champions League tie for PSG in the Camp Nou without the injured Neymar and Angel Di Maria.
And in another of the subplots to this blockbuster tie, last year’s beaten finalists will be seeking revenge for “la remontada” in their last meeting at this stage in 2017 when Barcelona won the second leg 6-1.
But Lionel Messi’s future has dominated the build-up to perhaps his final European tie for the Catalan club. After the Argentine tried to persuade Barcelona to re-sign Neymar in 2019, the Brazilian publically declared in December that he wanted to play with Messi again after his fallout with the cash-strapped La Liga side. And the Qatari-owned club, who could compete with Manchester City to pay Messi’s wages, admitted they would be interested in signing the Argentine if he leaves Catalonia in the summer.
Sporting director Leonardo, who sacked Thomas Tuchel before appointing Pochettino in December, told France Football last month: “Great players like Messi will always be put on PSG’s list. We are sat at the big table of those closely following the matter. In fact, no, We are not yet sat down but our chair is reserved just in case. Four months in football is an eternity, especially in this period.”
The open invitation to Messi did not impress the Catalan club or their fans. And on his arrival at their Barcelona hotel yesterday, gathered Barcelona supporters swore at PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and told him to: “Leave Messi alone, you thief!”
Barca boss Ronald Koeman criticised PSG last month and claimed they were playing mind games before this tie.
“They haven’t managed to destabilise us,” said the Dutchman in his pre-match press conference. “I don’t know whether that was their intention or not,” But Messi belongs to Barca and I have a lot of hope he will stay here.”
Defender Jordi Alba added: “Messi is 100% committed to Barcelona and will make his decision at the end of the season. We don’t pay attention to what other clubs and players say
“A lot has been said, there are many opinions, but the last word will be his. I hope he stays for many more years but it’s his decision and we’ll have to respect it. His mind is focused on Barca right now, you can see that in every game.”
Former Espanyol defender Pochettino, who took Tottenham to the 2019 final, said: “This is a special game, even more so that I have been here for about 40 days. I can feel that the match is important for the team. Winning the UEFA Champions League is the main goal for the club.”