Ligue 1 pacesetters Paris Saint-Germain have suspended star striker Lionel Messi for two weeks over a promotional visit to Saudi Arabia, it emerged on Wednesday.
The 36-year-old, who led Argentina to the World Cup crown in December, travelled to the country a few hours after a wraithlike performance during PSG’s humiliating 3-1 loss to Lorient at the Parc des Princes on Sunday afternoon.
The defeat, coupled with second-placed Marseille’s 2-1 victory over Auxerre reduced PSG’s lead at the top to five points with five games remaining.
As the PSG squad and its fanatical supporters digested the prospects of being reigned in and overtaken by their bitter rivals, Messi posted pictures on social media of verdant Saudi landscapes.
The tourism minister, Ahmed Al-Khateeb, took to social media to revel in Messi’s presence in the capital Riyadh.
According to the French sports newspaper L’Equipe, Messi will be banned from playing or training with the team and his pay will be docked during his ban.
It will mean he will be absent from the games against relegation candidates Troyes and Ajaccio on 6 and 13 May respectively.
Messi visited Saudi Arabia in May 2022 after he was named a Saudi Tourism Ambassador. On his first trip, he went to the Jeddah Season festival.
His latest venture and the attendant negative publicity is likely to overshadow PSG’s title run-in.
On paper, the expensively assembled squad should secure enough points to claim a record 11th Ligue 1 crown.
But after a billion euros worth of investment over a decade in stars such as Edinson Cavani, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, PSG’s Qatari owners covet the Champions League trophy.
They reached the final in 2020 where they lost to Bayern Munich. In 2021, the side reached the semi-final.
But since those heights, they have been eliminated in the last-16. In 2023, Bayern Munich crushed them 3-0 on aggregate.
In 2022 against Real Madrid, PSG shipped three goals in 17 minutes to squander a 2-0 aggregate lead and crash out of European club football’s most prestigious tournament.