Messi 'impressive' in PSG debut

Fans rewarded with star's 66th-minute appearance; Mbappe gets brace for 2-0 win

PARIS • Lionel Messi made his much-anticipated Ligue 1 debut for Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday but it was Kylian Mbappe who shone as the French Cup winners maintained their perfect start to the season with a 2-0 victory at Reims.

Mbappe gave PSG a taste of what they would be missing if he were to leave for Real Madrid - who have made two mega bids to recruit the France striker since Messi joined on a free transfer from Barcelona - netting a brace to go joint-top of the domestic scoring chart.

But the sell-out crowd of 20,545 at the Auguste-Delaune stadium were there to see 34-year-old Messi play.

The supporters, who chanted the Argentina forward's name non-stop, were rewarded in the 66th minute when he replaced the disappointing Neymar, who was also making his first appearance of the term.

Messi started to warm up after 57 minutes, drawing applause from the Reims fans, whom he saluted.

He came on not soon after Mbappe, who drew first blood for the visitors with a first-half header, had doubled PSG's advantage from Achraf Hakimi's cross at the end of a sharp counter attack.

The star duo had some promising link-up play and while Messi - who had been building up his fitness following his Copa America exploits - was unable to get a dream debut goal, he will be fitter in two weeks after the internationals.

On the former Barcelona talisman, PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino said: "It was important that he started with a win. He brings serenity to the team. His energy and his optimism trickle down on the rest of the team."

The hosts were also sold despite his short cameo.

"He's impressive. Last year, we were watching him play the Champions League, now it's a pleasure to have him in our league and it's also a pleasure to challenge him," said Reims defender Andrew Gravillon.

"I went to see him to get his shirt for my little brother but he didn't give it to me. Maybe next time I'll get lucky."

PSG's most immediate concern now is to keep Mbappe in Paris, even if it means he will be free to sign a pre-contract agreement with another team in January and leave on a free transfer next summer.

The 22-year-old's contract expires in a year and while he has shown no desire to extend it and reportedly wants to move to Real, the club is prepared to run the risk of him running down his deal.

"Kylian is our player, you know the football industry is full of rumours. Our president and sporting director have been clear," said Pochettino.

"He is with us. I am very happy. One of the most important players in the world".

Teammate Marco Verratti said: "Of course I want him to stay. We like to play with the strongest. We didn't discover Kylian today. He has been scoring a lot of goals for a few years. He is a phenomenon, we are very happy with him."

The transfer window closes today and it remains to be seen if Real will come back for Mbappe with a third bid - their latest offer of €180 million (S$285.9 million) was reportedly rejected over the weekend.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2021, with the headline 'Messi 'impressive' in PSG debut'. Subscribe