Argentine superstar Lionel Messi has made his desire to leave FC Barcelona official, according to multiple reports on Tuesday.
Messi, who made his senior debut for Barcelona in 2004, has told the Catalan giants that he wants to “unilaterally” terminate his contract with them, a club source confirmed to news agency AFP.
Lawyers for the 33-year-old sent Barca a fax in which they announced Messi’s desire to rescind his contract by triggering a release clause. However, the club maintains the clause expired in June and he remains under contract until the end of the 2021 season.
Messi joined Barcelona’s youth academy at the age of 13 and made his debut in 2004 as a 17-year-old, before going on to score a club-record 634 goals.
It is known that Messi has a clause in his contract that allows him to walk away from Barcelona on a free transfer as long as an official communication of the decision is made to the club.
According to a report in The Guardian, however, that clause could lead to complications for both sides given the extraordinary nature of the 2019-’20 season that only officially ended last weekend.
“Barcelona believe that the deadline for that clause to be applied has expired: he had to inform them of his decision before the end of May. But given the exceptional nature of this season, which extended into the summer and did not formally end until last Sunday’s Champions League final, Messi’s camp are set to argue that the deadline should be set on 31 August,” the report said.
Meanwhile, former Barcelona captain Careles Puyol tweeted: “Respect and admiration, Leo. All my support, friend.”
A report from Esporte Interativo earlier claimed Messi had made up his mind to leave this summer, although a Barcelona source told AFP shortly before a crucial board meeting that there had still been no communication with the club to that effect.
The news on Tuesday comes less than a week after Barcelona appointed Dutchman Ronald Koeman as the new coach on a two-year contract.
The 57-year-old Koeman, who had been in charge of the Netherlands since 2018, replaces Quique Setien, who was sacked after the Catalans were humiliated 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals on Friday. He became the fifth Dutchman to coach Barcelona after Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff, Louis van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard.
Koeman’s decision to not have striker Luis Suarez as part of his plans has not helped the situation with Messi, according to a report in Marca.
Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Inter Milan are among those to have been linked to Messi, who is among the greatest players in history and has wages to match, with a reported weekly salary of nearly a million euros.
ESPN reported that Messi spoke last week with Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola about a possible move. A Barcelona-based Brazilian journalist also said Messi wants to play under his former Barcelona coach.
There are suggestions Messi’s move could be just a power struggle between him and under-fire club president Josep Maria Bartomeu but reputed Spanish journalist Guillem Balague said that the transfer request is serious.
The straw that broke the proverbial back, if he does leave, will be the demolition by Bayern that exposed Barcelona’s ageing team for what Messi had been saying all along: they were simply not good enough.
He said it in February and again in July, when a rant in the aftermath of handing Real Madrid the title turned into a brutal, but honest, assessment of their season.
Messi saw the fall coming but it was too late to do anything about it and the question now is whether he wants to be part of the process of recovery and renewal.
Most have assumed it would take something cataclysmic for Messi to leave and the 8-2 defeat (combined with his tense relationship with the board) seems to have triggered this chain of events.
The loss in Portugal was clearly more painful than the capitulations against Roma and Liverpool, when carelessness and fragility deprived Barcelona of a genuine chance to lift the Champions League trophy. But they were shocks because Barca were contenders. This time, nobody expected them to beat Bayern. Many expected a thrashing but few could have predicted the severity of it.
(With AFP inputs)