MONDAY'S BIG STORIES

Here We Go

Another day, another new player at PSG. And it was an unspectacular debut for Pochettino's new no.30. A few drifting, jinking runs, some nice positions, a tackle or two. If you'd somehow managed to miss that this was Your Actual Lionel Messi, you'd have thought "Yeah, decent enough. Seems a player. Need to get into the game a bit more, but worth another look."
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And then, perhaps, "Hey, why is the opposition's keeper handing over his child?"
Of course, this wasn't really about the performance. The game was more-or-less won by the time Messi gave Neymar a quick hug and then jogged onto the pitch, and as such it was the symbolism of the moment that really came across. And the weirdness of it. The very, very weirdness.
This stands as a beginning and an ending. The beginning of Messi's unexpected and unlooked for second club career; the beginning of a few pinch-me-I'm-dreaming years for PSG's fans. And the ending of a process that began when Qatar Sports Investments picked Paris for their very own, went into overdrive with the transfer of Neymar, and has now concluded with the heist of the crown jewels. A reshuffling of the elite. The relegation of Barcelona to the second tier of European football powers.
As for the game, that happened too. Reims, a club that were playing European Cup finals before PSG were even founded, were appropriately disrespectful of their nouveau riche visitors. PSG, as PSG do, mixed some lovely football with some disjointed faffing about and some pointless aggro. But Kylian Mbappé scored a couple, as Kylian Mbappé does, and that's generally enough.
Obviously the Warm-Up's as guilty as anybody else here, in that we wouldn't be leading with a fairly routine PSG league win under any other circumstances. But while the sight of Messi in another shirt is probably going to stay strange, we very much hope that the weird atmosphere that surrounded his debut quickly dissipates into the ordinary grind of the football season.

This will take some getting used to

Image credit: Getty Images

We're not going to castigate Predrag Rajković for getting himself a Messi-plus-child picture. But if this kind of thing happens after every game, Messi-plus-Paris is going to start to feel like some kind of testimonial adventure. And that would be a shame: for Ligue 1, for Messi, and for all the rest of us, looking on in bemused interest. Because there are interesting football questions here. Can he re-blend with Neymar? Can he play with Mbappé? Can they play as a three? And can Ángel Di María do the pressing for all of them?
Such questions were of course set aside in favour of the moment, the surpassing strangeness of Messi trotting out with a new badge on his chest. They are perhaps less important than the currents of power, of politics and money, that have carried him to this place. You'd have a hard time calling any of this good, in a general sense, or healthy. But it is precisely the ordinariness of football, as a game, that makes great players extraordinary. And Messi, the most extraordinary ordinary man ever to do it, deserves a few more seasons of being a footballer, not a Globetrotter.

Supermarket Sweep

Of course, there is a chance that this is the only game Messi and Mbappé will ever play together. There are two days left of this weirdest of transfer windows to get even more grotesque, and Real Madrid are standing right there holding a very large cheque and the no.5 shirt.
For a sport that was supposed to be reconnecting with financial reality after the pandemic, things do seem to have got rather silly. Why, it's almost like there are a few clubs that have no need of financial reality at all, that either print their own money or have a state or an oligarch do it for them. And then a lot of others underpinned by nothing beyond a huge, pulsing, swelling, mutating vortex of debt.
If — and it's a big "if", even though big "if"s seem to happen twice a day at the moment — Mbappé does move to Real Madrid, that will obviously be huge, ridiculous, amazing, sensational, and all the other terribly loud words that go along with the transfer market. Which is more or less its own sport at the moment, a bastard hybrid of sports entertainment, creative accounting, invasive advertising and superhero franchise fiction. Win the summer, get through the football, win the summer again.
If he doesn't, well, that will be more ridiculous. To turn down the best part of €200m for a player with one year left on his contract, a player that can sign for Real Madrid for free in just a few months time, isn't just a bold decision. It is a decision that says, in effect, "We operate beyond money". Not just in the "LOL @ FFP" sense, though there is that. But money as a concept, as a thing that is limited. A club that can afford to reject such an offer is a club that can reject the word "afford" altogether.

United On The Road

"Whenever they're playing in your town, get yourself to that football ground. Come along and you will see, the longest streak of non-defeats away from home in Premier League history. Oh! Manchester, Manchester United …"
Obviously, this achievement [citation needed] comes with a heavy caveat, in that home crowds have been missing for most of it. But Sunday's win against Wolves was United's 28th game away from home without losing, which may not come with a trophy is at least interestingly peculiar. And happily enough, "interestingly peculiar but may not come with a trophy" is a decent working definition for this United side. It's almost like we set that up ourselves.
Watching United wobble against Wolves, the Warm-Up's first, second, third, fourth and then just generally continuing thought wasn't "This looks like a team that could use Cristiano Ronaldo". More, "This looks like a team that could use a midfield". But then everybody's been saying that for years and nobody takes any notice. You'd think Michael Carrick, sat on the United bench, might have noticed the state of things, in a Spider-Man pointing at the absence of Spider-Man kind of way.
But on the other hand, having Cristiano Ronaldo hanging around in the box does make it more likely that United, as they did at Molineux, will just keep getting away it. Football teams can win games with well-dictated tempo, constructed play, control, and all that other fancy and pleasing stuff. But they can also win games by lining up a lot of goal machines and having some or all of them go brrrrr. And it looks like United have made their choice.

IN OTHER NEWS

It's slick. It's sexy. It's football taught by … huh, it says "José Mourinho" here. Weird coincidence. Anyway, isn't Tammy Abraham settling in well?

RETRO CORNER

12 glorious minutes of glorious Pavel Nedvěd: Czech hero, Juventus legend, and football's finest Patrick Swayze lookalike. Happy birthday to him. When the Warm-Up was young, we believed that nobody in the history of football had ever kicked the ball harder. And looking back, we weren't exactly wrong.

HAT TIP

Essential reading from the Guardian's Suzanne Wrack: how an impromptu coalition of former players, human rights lawyers and ex-military personnel managed to get Afghanistan's women's international side out of the country over the last two weeks.
[The team] used to have to train on a military base. In 2011 or 2012, there was a bombing at the base at the exact time that they were supposed to be playing football. After that, they never trained in the country, even before the Taliban regained power, because it was so dangerous. They’d never played a single one of their home games in the country."

COMING UP

An international break? Now? Well, if you're sure. Wrexham vs. Notts County it is!
Widely regarded as The Warm-Up's finest Patrick Swayze lookalike, Ben Snowball will be here tomorrow.
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