PARIS (Agencies): Paris Saint-Germain have clinched a French record 11th league title as Lionel Messi scored in a 1-1 draw away at Strasbourg and broke the scoring record for Europe’s top five leagues, but questions remain over the Argentinian’s future at the club.
Messi’s opener on Saturday was cancelled out by a Kevin Gameiro equaliser, but the result gave PSG an unassailable four-point lead over second-placed Lens with one match of the season remaining.
PSG moved ahead of the previous record of 10 titles set by Saint-Etienne in 1981 and which they equalled a year ago under former coach Mauricio Pochettino.
It is PSG’s ninth title in the last 11 seasons, a period in which they have dominated French football under the ownership of Qatar Sports Investment.
PSG started the penultimate weekend of the season six points clear of nearest rivals Lens with just six points to play for, and with a far better goal difference.
In the end, they needed only the draw to be officially confirmed as champions with a game to spare, as Lens eased to a 3-0 win over already-relegated Ajaccio.
Kylian Mbappe set up Messi to put PSG ahead just before the hour mark with his 16th Ligue 1 goal this season.
It was also Messi’s 496th league goal in Europe and broke Cristiano Ronaldo’s scoring record for Europe’s top five leagues.
Ex-Paris striker Gameiro equalised with 11 minutes left, bundling in the rebound after Gianluigi Donnarumma had saved from Morgan Sanson.
The draw ultimately suited both teams as it enabled Strasbourg to guarantee their top-flight survival.
PSG’s triumph was secured despite Christophe Galtier’s team losing six games in 2023, while nearest challengers Lens have taken most of the plaudits.
PSG were unbeaten before the FIFA World Cup, when Mbappe, Messi and Neymar appeared driven by the prospect of the approaching tournament in Qatar.
However, they lost six of their first 17 league games in 2023 and were eliminated from the Champions League in the last 16 by Bayern Munich and in the French Cup at the same stage.
PSG’s holy grail is the Champions League, in which the club has regularly come up short at the crucial moment – including crashing out in the last 16 five times in seven seasons.
The mood around the club in recent weeks has appeared sullen with fans disaffected. Neymar, now 31, has suffered more injury problems and Messi was suspended for missing training after taking an unauthorised trip to Saudi Arabia.
When results were going poorly, some of the fans’ anger was targeted towards Messi, who was seen to be underperforming after his return from winning the World Cup with Argentina.
Marco Kirdemir, a football agent, told Al Jazeera earlier this month that it is clear Messi – who is out of contract at the end of the season – wants a change of scenery.
“He could go with Al Hilal, or Inter Miami or Barcelona … but what is certain is that Messi will not be with PSG next year because there is already a rupture, including one with the fans,” he said.
There is also increased speculation that Galtier – who also won the title with Lille two years ago – will be replaced in the close season.
“When we take stock, we need to analyse the first half of the season and what state the players were in when they came back from the World Cup,” Galtier said on Friday.
“But I understand the disappointment. It has been a very strange season.”
Galtier arrived last year in the wake of Mbappe’s decision to snub Real Madrid and sign a new three-year contract.
Mbappe – scorer of 40 goals this season – might wonder now if he made the right choice, although the question of his future is bound to come up again soon.
According to reports, the 24-year-old’s contract will run out next year unless he exercises an option to stay until 2025.
All eyes will be on what Luis Campos, PSG’s Portuguese recruitment guru, does in the transfer market.
He is restrained by UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules and by the fact that PSG has an array of unwanted players on big contracts who are set to return after a season on loan.
The saving on Messi’s annual salary of an estimated 30 million euros ($32.5m) net would provide some leeway.
Much has been made of the willingness to focus on younger players hailing from the Paris region, a prolific breeding ground for talent.
This, after all, is a club who have been stung by the decision to let so many prospects leave in recent years, from Kingsley Coman and Adrien Rabiot to Moussa Diaby, Christopher Nkunku and Mike Maignan.
Meanwhile, the club’s owners continue to be thwarted in their attempts to buy the Parc des Princes from the city of Paris so they can expand capacity, raising the possibility of a move to the larger Stade de France.