In Reims, Lionel Messi takes his first steps in Ligue 1 in jubilation

Sunday, August 29, it is 10:10 p.m. at the Auguste-Delaune stadium. We are at 63e minute of the Reims-PSG match and time has frozen in the Champagne evening. Kylian Mbappé scored twice and established Parisian success (0-2). A second goal went almost unnoticed. The eyes of the privileged 20,500 present in the enclosure are turned at this time to the sidelines. Lionel Messi has just taken off his chasuble to make his entrance. The third achievement of the Bondynois this season delayed the enthronement of the Argentine striker in the playing area by a few seconds.

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Three minutes later, “the Pulga” finally takes the place of Neymar and takes his first steps on a Ligue 1 lawn, to the applause of a stadium won for the cause of the 34-year-old player. The beginning of a twenty-five minute first act broadcast in mondovision. An uncontrolled handover to Marco Verratti as a first touch was enough to capsize Delaune. There followed some tasty exchanges with Mbappé which left one dreaming for the future, if the latter chooses to re-stack for at least a year, the uncertainty remaining a few hours from the end of the transfer window, Tuesday August 31 at midnight. Each action even becomes an excuse to pass the ball to him, even if it means playing against nature, as if his teammates wanted to make sure that they were playing well with one of the greatest players in history.

Supporters from all over the world

A first which brought back to the Marne supporters from all over the world, as attested by Alexandre Jeannin. “We had purchases of tickets from Argentina, the United States or even Egypt and India”, details the club ticket manager. The Stade de Reims had probably not experienced such an exhibition since the 1950s, during which the club played two Champions League finals, in 1956 and 1959.

« We have been talking about Reims all over the world for ten days. We could have filled the stadium’s capacity four or five times. This is unheard of. We had hosted one of David Beckham’s first matches (went to Paris in 2013), but there it goes beyond anything that has already been done.t ”, testifies the general manager Mathieu Lacour.

If the subscribers saw the prices remained the same, the most expensive places sold for up to 200 euros on the official website of the club, against 120 usually for large posters. “What’s crazy is that the peak was even before his arrival was official. The traffic on our site has been multiplied by six “, explains Alexandre Jeannin. A breath of fresh air for the institution, which recorded 30 million euros in losses last season due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the TV rights crisis.

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Rail traffic has also experienced upheaval. The train from Paris to Reims had strong Latin American overtones on Sunday morning. Decked out in the Parisian jersey stamped with the Argentinian number 30, Beatriz and his two children came from Yucatan (Mexico) to attend the match. “We often went to Barcelona to see him play. We organized the holidays around this match. My son is a very big fan of Messi and Barça ”, smiles the mother – who took advantage of her stay in Paris to make a detour through Reims. A little further in the train, another duo from Buenos Aires came especially for the meeting.

Have your piece of Messi

Clusters of supporters who have made the hotels of the Champagne city happy. “It’s not every Sunday that we sell out. The vast majority of bookings have a direct link with the match ”, confirms a receptionist at a downtown hotel. Several hundred people gathered in front of the Continental, where the Parisians landed on the sidelines of the meeting. The children’s eyes sparkled when they thought they had seen the legend Messi behind the tinted windows of the establishment.

World-class players, Nicolas Penneteau met them during his career (Zlatan, Drogba, Falcao). “To have him in the championship and to be able to see him and face him is something that is remarkable in a career. We wouldn’t have believed it a few weeks ago. I am going to try to provide some experience in words and ask the teammates to play their game, because we have qualities to promote ”, deciphered before the game the current substitute goalkeeper, more than 400 Ligue 1 games to his credit.

If Oscar Garcia’s players jostled the Parisians at the start of the two halves, they failed to keep up the pace to cast doubt on PSG. But the main thing was elsewhere for a club which showed a beautiful face on and off the pitch. Between checks before the sanitary pass and return to a maximum level, the Stade de Reims called on nearly 150 additional reception and security agents to facilitate entry to the stadium. “So that people can enjoy the pre-match”, explains Mathieu Lacour. The bet succeeded with a full Delaune stadium almost an hour before kick-off.

The post-match was less on target. “Nobody has taken a position on who will exchange his jersey with him. It will be decided after the whistle “, confessed Nicolas Penneteau. The goalkeeper was right, because no Rémois dared to challenge the Argentine after the final whistle, content to greet him. Only Andreaw Gravillon whispered a few words in the ear of number 30. “I asked for his jersey for my little brother. I tried without success, we’ll see next time ”, smiled the defender after the game. The Champagne porter Rajkovic has chosen a more subtle way to immortalize the moment. The Serb asked Messi to take a photo with his son in his arms.

What is rare attracts envy, and Messi will have excelled until the end of his champagne evening in this area. Usually erased, the leprechaun of 1 m 69 came to embrace after the match Thierry Henry – his ex-teammate in Barcelona -, now a consultant at the edge of the field, before starting a start of “clapping” against the noisy Parisian parking lot. A final salute to the bleachers illuminated by smartphone flashes before disappearing into the stadium tunnel. Without blazing with the ball at the foot, the king came, saw, and conquered.