Lionel Messi apologizes for Saudi Arabia trip, with his PSG tenure all but over

PSG's Lionel Messi gestures as he warms up before the French Ligue 1 soccer match between Paris Saint-Germain and Lorient, at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Sunday, April 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

Lionel Messi punctuated a tumultuous week Friday with a belated attempt at damage control, which included an apology to Paris Saint-Germain and his teammates for skipping training in favor of a trip to Saudi Arabia.

In a seemingly contrite video posted in Spanish to his Instagram page, Messi claimed that he'd previously canceled the trip and "couldn't cancel it" again. (The trip was part of his lucrative contract with the Saudi government to promote tourism in the Gulf kingdom.)

Messi also said that, "honestly, I thought we were going to have a day off after the game, as had been happening in previous weeks" — although, according to reports, that claim is a bit deceptive. PSG players typically get Mondays off after a Sunday win. According to reports, Messi had requested permission to use that day off for the Saudi trip, but club officials had only granted conditional permission if PSG won or drew.

Instead, Messi and the Parisians lost 3-1 at home to Lorient, as fans howled in displeasure. The following day, Messi boarded a private jet anyway. His absence reportedly sparked tension among players. A day later, the club suspended him without pay for two weeks. And a day after that, hundreds of disgruntled PSG ultras gathered outside the club's training ground, with Messi among several subjects of their vocal ire.

The suspension, it later emerged, was merely public evidence of an impending divorce. Messi and/or PSG, according to reports, had already decided that his contract would not be renewed. He will leave in the summer, with Barcelona, Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal and Major League Soccer's Inter Miami his top three suitors. In fact, it's unclear if he will ever play for PSG again — and whether he does, in the grand scheme of his glittering career, is all but irrelevant.

But as PSG deliberated and teammates bristled, Messi's mostly gleaming reputation wobbled. Choosing a sponsorship contract with an authoritarian state over soccer was unbecoming of a GOAT. His Saudi ties had begun to attract more scrutiny than ever. And in this ugly split with PSG, or at least in this specific saga that accelerated it, Messi seemed to be in the wrong.

Behind the scenes, his representatives seemingly attempted to spin the narrative, but without much success. Then, on Friday, they filmed and posted the 37-second video to Messi's Instagram story.

“Hello. Well, I wanted to make this video after everything that's happening,” Messi said into the camera. “First of all, I apologize to my teammates, to the club.

He later repeated the apology "for what I did." He then said he was "waiting for what the club decides," presumably referencing his short-term future. PSG has five league games remaining. The two-week suspension would rule him out for two of them. It remains unclear whether Messi will play in the final three.

And that's all. "Nothing more," Messi said in conclusion. Then he signed off with two words, his face never flinching into a smile: "Un abrazo." A hug.