The arrival of footballing idol Lionel Messi at Paris Saint Germain has tightened the links between Argentina and the French capital, where a wave of enthusiasm for the legendary number 10 is plain to see.
París, the heart of fashion in Argentine eyes, has been hit by 'Messi-manía' ever since ‘La Pulga’ decided to move to the French Ligue 1 side last August, after 21 years with FC Barcelona.
"Leo is Argentina’s number ambassador in the world," PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino, who hails from the Rosario region like Messi, explained to AFP.
For many Argentines installed in Paris, it’s like an "extra-terrestrial" has visited, jokes Carlos Muguruza, who owns the Volver restaurant, a regular haunt for PSG’s footballers over the last 10 years.
When the transfer was announced, this restaurant owner thought at first that it was "a joke."
"He sparks a special attraction. He’s the best thing which has happened to us in 18 months of pandemic hell," he assures.
Indeed, if Buenos Aires is known as the Paris of South America, Paris could now be the Buenos Aires of Europe.
Apart from Messi, PSG can also count on the presence of Ángel Di María, Leandro Paredes, Mauro Icardi and the head team coach Pochettino. The club’s red-and-white shirts have strong hues of light blue and white.
"I don’t know why but Argentines take to Paris, there’s good harmony," affirms Gonzalo Quesada, the Argentine trainer of the Stade Français rugby team.
"We often run across some of them. These days it’s more with Icardi. We share things in common like a passion for horse-racing," he adds.
Quesada and Icardi’s friendship has helped to maintain an Argentine sporting community spirit, normally in the form of congregating around an asado barbecue. Ex-PSG stars Javier Pastore and Ezequiel Lavezzi helped to launch the movement a decade ago.
"I still haven’t managed to meet up [with the other Argentines], with quarantine it’s been difficult seeing each other," said Pochettino, who arrived back at the club he once played for in January.
These days practically the entire Argentine population of 45 million people have their eyes fixed on the Parc des Princes.
The expatriates in the Paris area – around 16,000 of a total of 20,000 residing in France – are already taking full advantage of the 'Messi show.'
"His arrival was crazy. We’re all very happy to see him in Paris," declared Paulina Buyatti, who collaborated on pieces with various Argentine media outlets when the Rosario-born star was in the process of signing.
"It was a very special emotion [watching him play]," assures Andrés Gagliano, who donned an Argentine team shirt to see Messi’s 2-1 début against Lyon at the Parc des Princes.
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"I’m going to try and see all his matches" either on television or in the stadium, continues the biomedical engineer, a Boca Juniors fan. Gagliano says his colleagues are now asking him more about his native land as a result of the new arrival.
But beyond the sporting component, "there’s a movement of empathy which gives our country relevance," assures Argentina’s Ambassador in Paris Leonardo Costantino.
"France and Argentina are bonded by 200 years of friendship in the political, cultural, sporting and scientific planes," he explains.
The diplomat saw Messi on August 14, after his presentation to the public before the recent PSG-Strasbourg match.
"He has the humility of great men. He is more than a football player. He inspires us with his immense talent," says the ambassador.
Enrique Zanoni, co-founder of the Clásico Argentino restaurant chain, created a special offer of 30 empanadas for the superstar’s first Champions League match – a reference to the number on the back of Messi’s shirt.
Fellow Argentina Carlos Muguruza, for his part, is preparing to welcome the star to his restaurant, describing him as "humility in-person."
And what will he serve him?
"A good chunk of beef to share, some nice chips and chimichurri sauce. The simple things."
by Alexis Hontang, AFP