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In the Champagne region of France, Lionel Messi has been royally coronated in Ligue 1
Anjishnu Roy

In 486 AD, almost half a century after the French town of Reims had allied itself with Julius Caesar and three decades after it was put to fire and sword by Attila the Hun, Clovis I became the first king of what would become France. He also founded the Merovingian dynasty, which is considered by many conspiracy theorists and fringe scholars to be the bloodline of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene.

The bishop of Reims baptized Clovis I using oil seemingly brought from heaven by a white dove and that act would go on to occupy a special place in the history of French monarchy.

From then on, the accession to the throne was only legitimatized after a sacred ceremony performed with the Crown of Charlemagne at the Notre Dame in Reims.

As such, the city of Reims came to be known as La cité des sacres (The Coronation City). The last ruler to be crowned in Reims was Charles X in 1825. His decision to be crowned proved so unpopular that he was ultimately overthrown in the French Revolution of 1830.

And so, the city of Reims, once the seat of the royal coronation remained without a king.

Until August 30, 2021, that is.

The prince of Barcelona is crowned in France…

Messi makes his debut for PSG

It seemed almost divine intervention that when Lionel Messi, a man whose football has often drawn ballads of praises ranging from regality to divinity began the next chapter in his almost mythical career, it was at la cité des sacres in Reims where the supposed bloodline of Christ legitimatized the accession to the French throne millennia ago.

It also made perfect sense then that the fans of Stade de Reims, Messi’s opponents on the night, were in a hypnotic state of daze at the idea of the arrival of a new king in the country. How else do you explain that the grandest ovation of the night wasn’t when El Bilal Toure scored the equalizer for Reims before it eventually got disallowed by VAR but was reserved for Lionel Messi stepping on to the pitch for the first time in Ligue 1?

Almost every velvet touch and every darting run of Messi was accompanied by a series of loud roars, a ‘long live the King!’ if you will. There were the shimmies, the quick turns, the sense of being at ease when he was on the ball and there was the trademark collective sense of dread among the defenders that usually accompanies the presence of the diminutive Argentine – despite being on the pitch for merely 24 minutes, he drew the most fouls in a night where Kylian Mbappé scored twice and ran amok.

The world of football had their eyes on this game…

Messi was subbed in for Neymar in the second half

The entire world had tuned in to watch Lionel Messi play competitive football for the first time in almost 50 days. The context surrounding it – Copa America victory with Argentina, a complete U-turn in negotiations in Barcelona, a heartbreaking exit, signing with PSG to play alongside Neymar and Mbappé – made for blockbuster entertainment of the highest order and as expected, viewership was through the roof!

Over 6.7 million people watched the match between PSG and Reims in Spain (almost four times more than those who tuned in to watch Barcelona seal a scrappy win against Getafe at Camp Nou) making it the most watched Ligue 1 match in the country. According to L’Equipe, the game drew over 10.5 million viewers in France, the most in the league’s history.

Messi is Barcelona, Barcelona is Messi, many of the fans on the east coast of Spain would still argue but saying that it still feels weird to accept even for neutrals would be an understatement. The world might have gotten used to living in a global pandemic, but seeing Lionel Messi in a PSG shirt definitely takes the cake of the truth being stranger than fiction.

It was a bitter pill to swallow for some…

Barca fans will still take some time to accept the loss

Barcelona, meanwhile, have no one but themselves, and former President Jose Maria Bartomeu, to blame for this mess. The Catalan club have been going through an identity crisis for a long time but losing Lionel Messi might prove to be the final nail in the coffin. For much of his recent years, Messi has single-handedly papered over the gigantic cracks in Catalonia before it collapsed into a gaping Camp Nou-sized hole this summer.

With no mega-star to sell and with PSG refusing to sell Kylian Mbappé to Real Madrid, La Liga has also taken steps backwards over the last few years. Gone are the days of a Messi vs Ronaldo pay-per-view El Clasico clash, few people other than those genuinely invested in the top teams outside the country have incentives to catch the league from here on.

But a new era is here…

And PSG will make the most of Messi

One man’s loss is another man’s gain as they say. The signing of Messi not only bolsters PSG into Champions League contention following a mighty transfer window, but could possibly boost the fortunes of French football which has stuttered and limped for much of this millennium.

It may not have been vintage Messi inside the 28 minutes we saw in Reims. Appearing on a football turf for the first time since conquering the Copa America in Brazil on July 10, the rustiness in his game was pretty apparent. The subjects at Reims might have been deprived of the adrenaline rush that follows a Lionel Messi goal or assist but make no mistake, they were witness to history on the night, which is why Stade de Reims goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic celebrated the occasion by asking him to pose with his newborn for a picture after the match.

Reims is also one of the biggest commercial centers in the Champagne region of France, famous worldwide for its sparkling white wine that holds a prestigious reverence and desire both in the medieval history of Europe as well as in modern popular culture and lifestyle.

Lionel Messi’s PSG debut heralded a new era in the career of football’s answer to Chardonnay. The finest artist in the sport has won nearly everything there is to conquer but it’s been a while since the world has seen pictures of Messi lifting a Champions League and it’s about time he went ahead and added another one to his decorated trophy cabinet.

One could even sense that beyond the shenanigans of club football, Messi’s pursuit is more romantic. Having finally delivered the long-awaited international trophy after repeated heartbreaks, the Argentine wants to complete the sport by winning the Holy Grail of football. With the World Cup being hosted wait-for-it in the country that owns PSG next year, this season could as well prove to be the writing on the wall.

Lionel Messi is now 34 and we’re all living on borrowed time before we’re eventually robbed of his transcendental genuis. Might as well pop open the bottle of Champagne and raise a toast to him for bringing joy to our weekends once again. PSG and Ligue 1 certainly will!

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