REIMS -- Lionel Messi has finally taken his first steps as a Paris Saint-Germain player and Stade de Reims were delighted to play hosts on Sunday. But it was Kylian Mbappe who reminded everyone who the French giant's most influential player is despite his legendary new teammate's arrival in a 2-0 victory.
Mbappe scored once in each half to ensure that Monday's headlines will be as much about him as they will about Messi but there was no doubt who the home fans were keen to see with the 34-year-old afforded the warmest of welcomes to French soccer, even on the road.
For a while, it did not look as if Messi would play much of a role at all with PSG head coach Mauricio Pochettino playing down heavy involvement prematch and no sign of the Argentina international during the warm-up or at halftime.
However, as the hour mark approached and Reims started to come back into the contest after falling behind to Mbappe's headed 15th-minute opener with Marshall Munetsi's equalizer ruled out via VAR, Messi got the call to arms and started to warm up on the touchline.
Mbappe finished off a lightspeed counterattack to double PSG's lead just after the hour mark, and that was the cue for Pochettino to summon his compatriot from his stretching to replace close friend Neymar, who equally looked short of match fitness as he played his first minutes this season.
Messi's introduction to French supporters might have been a warm one with most of the capacity crowd at Stade Auguste Delaune almost willing him to score to complete an already memorable experience but the Reims players were in no mood to roll out the red carpet.
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Mbappe was mauled by the home defense in front of Messi and former Barcelona teammate Thierry Henry watched on in his punditry role from the side of the field as the South American found his feet in Ligue 1. But there were hints at an understanding with the current French superstar.
Whether that was Mbappe trying to make the most of what could prove to be a short-lived spell in the same squad, or the beginnings of a potential new attacking force this campaign remains to be seen but Messi will have been impressed by his younger teammate's prowess in front of goal.
Mbappe headed home from an Angel Di Maria cross 15 minutes in before combining with Achraf Hakimi to make the result safe as Messi prepared to make his grand entrance in France's champagne territory.
Despite the advent of Messi's maiden outing, it was far from a perfect performance with the midfield still workmanlike at times with Marco Verratti shouldering the brunt of the creative burden. Meanwhile, the defense was shaky at times and PSG goalkeeper Keylor Navas looked unconfident.
However, despite the room for improvement, four wins from four in Le Championnat represents a good start to the 2021-22 season and a two-point lead over Angers SCO has already been established as we head into the international break.
When Messi will make his full home debut and when we might get our first look at him, Mbappe and Neymar together is a question for another day. PSG's next game is scheduled for Sept. 12 against Clermont Foot, and it's unclear if Messi or Neymar would play right out of the international break. And then there's Mbappe's clouded future. The French striker has been linked to a move to Real Madrid, and Los Blancos have until Tuesday night to strike a last-minute transfer deal with PSG.
It could possibly be as late as Olympique Lyonnais at Parc des Princes on Sept. 19 when Messi is finally ready to start for PSG and the UEFA Champions League group stage will already be underway by that point with Club Brugge away first up for the French capital club. There is also Montpellier HSC to come before PSG host Pep Guardiola's men, and that City clash is most likely the fixture that will be targeted to finally have everyone up to speed as the first major clash of this edition.
For now, though, French soccer made history as Reims played host to Messi's debut and seeing him in the Rouge et Bleu of PSG will take some getting used to for all of us -- especially opposing fans who could not have dreamed of seeing him live in Ligue 1 until recently.
Reims goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic was so in awe of Messi that he asked for a picture of his child with Messi after the final whistle, which speaks volumes about the watershed moment which French soccer has just played host to.
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