Lionel Messi didn’t care about the boos in his final game for Paris Saint-Germain as the French league champion lost to Clermont 3-2 on Saturday.
Disrespectful PSG supporters booed Messi when the Parc des Princes announcer read his name on a warm evening. A few minutes later, Messi walked onto the field with a smile on his face, holding his three children’s hands before the team photo and kissing them on their foreheads before kickoff.
“I would like to thank the club, the city of Paris and its people for these two years. I wish you all the best for the future,” Messi told the club website.
In two seasons at PSG, Messi won two French leagues and the French Champions Trophy and notched 32 goals and 35 assists in all competitions.
Messi scored in a 1-1 draw at Strasbourg a week ago to help PSG clinch a record-extending 11th French league title. By notching a 496th career league goal, the Argentine genius also broke Cristiano Ronaldo’s scoring record for Europe’s top five leagues.
The World Cup winner didn’t sign the contract extension that Qatar-backed PSG offered him and has been strongly linked with a move to a Saudi club where he could earn more money than Ronaldo. Inter Miami is another possible option but wouldn’t be able to match the Saudi offer of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Messi tried hard to get on the scoresheet on the final day of the French league. He had a shot parried by Clermont goalkeeper Mory Diaw in the 14th minute, hit a snapshot wide in the 31st and curled a free kick over the bar in the 42nd.
A selfless Kylian Mbappe made a solo run in the 54th to tee up Messi, who blazed over the bar. Messi nearly found the net in the 59th but Diaw turned his low drive around the post. Diaw denied Messi again in stoppage time, palming away a free kick.
After the final whistle, Messi hugged his teammates and shook hands with the Clermont players.
PSG took a 2-0 lead with a header from the departing Sergio Ramos in the 16th and a penalty from Mbappe in the 21st.
But Clermont leveled before halftime with goals by Johan Gatien and Mehdi Zeffane.
Grejohn Kyei scored the winner by converting a cross in the 63rd.
Despite his aging legs, Messi has produced moments of magic this season; an overhead kick against Clermont last August, a ball over the top for Mbappe to score against Lille in August that was the joint-fastest goal in the league, a free kick in stoppage time to beat Lille in February, and a perfectly timed throughball for Mbappe against Brest in March.
There were hopes Messi would stay another year in Paris after expressing his happiness at the club in March.
“Yes, it’s true that I feel very well,” Messi told the club website. “The first year, I needed a little time to adapt to Paris for different reasons, but I started this season really differently, with a lot of desire. I feel more comfortable with the club, with the city, with everything that Paris means. And the truth is that I am really enjoying this season.”
But the mood changed after PSG’s exit in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Messi was expected to be the missing piece of the puzzle for the club in the quest for a first Champions League trophy. But PSG lacked the structure and balance of the Argentina team where Julian Alvarez up front and Rodrigo De Paul on the right wing did the dirty work for Messi.
PSG fans have jeered Messi in the past couple of months as his form dipped after he helped Argentina win the World Cup.
Then relations with the club deteriorated last month when Messi was suspended by PSG after an unauthorized trip to Saudi Arabia. Messi has a commercial contract with Saudi Arabia to promote tourism in that country.
Despite the embarrassment for Qatar, PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi seemed to show no hard feelings on Saturday.
“His contribution to Paris Saint-Germain and Ligue 1 cannot be understated and we wish Leo and his family all the best for the future,” Al-Khelaifi told the club website.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports