Barcelona’s all-time leading goalscorer Lionel Messi says he is staying because it is “impossible” for any team to pay his release clause and he does not want to face “the club I love” in court.
But the club said his 700m euro (£624m) release clause would have to be met.
“I thought and was sure that I was free to leave,” Messi told Goal.
“The president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I stayed or not.
“And this is the reason why I am going to continue in the club. Now I am going to continue in the club because the president told me that the only way to leave was to pay the 700m clause, and that this is impossible.”
Messi, whose contract expires next summer, says the fact he did not tell Barca he wanted to leave before 10 June was crucial, and had he done so his release clause would not have had to be met.
“Now they cling to the fact that I did not say it before 10 June, when it turns out that on 10 June we were competing for La Liga in the middle of this awful coronavirus and this disease altered all the season,” he added.
“There was another way and it was to go to trial. I would never go to court against Barca because it is the club that I love, which gave me everything since I arrived.
“It is the club of my life, I have made my life here.”
Messi’s father Jorge had held talks in Barcelona this week and insisted his son could leave for free, only for La Liga to back Barca’s stance over the release clause.
Manchester City were among the clubs linked with Messi when he made clear he wanted to end his 20-year stay at the Nou Camp, nine days after an 8-2 defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals.
That result meant Barca ended the season with no silverware, and they replaced manager Quique Setien with former Everton and Netherlands manager Ronald Koeman.
Messi is yet to train with his team-mates since Koeman’s arrival and admits the club’s lack of recent success influenced his decision to ask to leave.
“I looked further afield and I want to compete at the highest level, win titles, compete in the Champions League,” he said.
“When I communicated my wish to leave to my wife and children, it was a brutal drama.
“The whole family began crying, my children did not want to leave Barcelona, nor did they want to change schools.
“I love Barcelona and I’m not going to find a better place than here anywhere. Still, I have the right to decide.
“I was going to look for new goals and new challenges. And tomorrow I could go back, because here in Barcelona I have everything.”
‘This could get uglier’ – analysis
Spanish football writer Andy West
So Messi is staying, but this saga is far from over.
One notable takeaway from his interview was his brutal assessment of club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, as he lamented: “There has been no project or anything for a long time, they juggle and cover holes as they go along.”
Bartomeu’s tenure as president finishes in March but he will now come under heavy pressure to resign immediately, and it’s hard to see how he and Messi can coexist in the same club after such a vicious character assassination.
Of course, the big question also lingers: will Messi now leave on a free transfer next summer? If so, he will be allowed to negotiate his move in January, and that topic is sure to dominate headlines over the next few weeks.
One man in the middle of this is recently appointed coach Ronald Koeman, who has the task of somehow reintegrating the team’s captain and key player within an utterly dysfunctional club still traumatised by the embarrassing 8-2 Champions League loss against Bayern Munich.
All the best, Ronald. This sorry story has a few more chapters to be written, and it could get uglier yet.
From going to staying – a Messi timeline
- August 14 – Messi and Barcelona are humiliated as they crash out of the Champions League with an 8-2 thrashing by eventual winners Bayern Munich in their one-off quarter-final tie.
- August 17 – Head coach Quique Setien is sacked eight months after taking charge at the Nou Camp.
- August 19 – Former Barca midfielder Ronald Koeman leaves his job as manager of the Netherlands to take over from Setien.
- August 25 – Messi sends a burofax to Barca chiefs informing them he wishes to leave – with claims of disagreements between the player and the club of the validity of a contract clause which would allow him to go for free.
- August 30 – Messi does not turn up for his scheduled Covid-19 test before Barcelona’s start to pre-season training. Later, La Liga issues a statement siding with Barca in the dispute over whether Messi can depart for nothing.
- September 2 – Messi and his father Jorge hold a meeting with Barca, and Jorge is reported in the Spanish press as saying it would be “difficult” for his son to stay at the Nou Camp.
- September 4 – Messi’s father writes to La Liga insisting his son is contractually allowed to leave Barcelona for free in the current transfer window. However, Messi later confirms his intention to stay because he does not want to take Barcelona to court.