In what is a catastrophic blow to Manchester City’s hopes of signing the 33-year-old, Barcelona have reached a resolution in the drawn-out talks with Messi’s representatives, following an official transfer request at the end of last month.
Jorge Messi, the player’s father, has been locked in talks with the Spanish club for the last three days, but after issuing a letter earlier in the day that stressed Messi’s contract – which contained a €700m (£624m) release clause – no longer applies following the conclusion of the 2019/20 season, the Argentina international has completed a U-turn and will remain at the Nou Camp for the season ahead because he does not want to take the club to court.
Messi is only contracted through to the end of the season, and though the club have offered a two-year extension, he remains eligible to leave the Liga side next summer for free – something he intends to do unless the club can prove they are capable of genuinely competing for the Champions League.
In an interview with Goal, Messi 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.
“But I looked further afield and I want to compete at the highest level, win titles, compete in the Champions League. You can win or lose in it, because it is very difficult, but you have to compete.
“At least compete for it and let us not fall apart in Rome, Liverpool, Lisbon. All that led me to think about that decision that I wanted to carry out.”
Messi says he was told by Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu that he was free to leave at the end of the season – though that was before the coronavirus pandemic struck. As a result, when the expiry date arrived on the clause on 10 June, Barcelona were still in the middle of the season, waiting for La Liga to resume in their ultimately unsuccessful title battle with Real Madrid.
“I thought and was sure that I was free to leave, the president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I stayed or not,” Messi added.
“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.
“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 (£624m) clause, and that this is impossible.”
The only way Messi saw himself being able to leave the club this summer for free was to fight the contract clause legally, which proved the decisive factor in confirming his stay at the club.
“There was another way and it was to go to trial,” Messi explained. “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.
“Barca gave me everything and I gave it everything. I know that it never crossed my mind to take Barca to court.”
However, it means that new head coach Ronald Koeman will have to find a way of reintegrating an unhappy player into the squad ahead of the new season, while there is also the ironic fact that Barcelona will have to pay €70m (£63m) to Messi this season in a loyalty bonus.
He arrived at Barcelona in 2001 at the age of 14 from boyhood club Newell’s Old Boys, becoming one of the greatest players in the history of the game as he claimed the Ballon d’Or award a record six times, along with helping the club to 10 La Liga title and four Champions League wins.
Earlier in the day, Messi Sr submitted a letter to La Liga’s head office that claimed the €700m buy-out clause did not need to be paid this summer, though the league quickly responded to say his claims lacked context and against the wording of the contract.
“This indemnity will not apply when the player’s decision to unilaterally rescind the contract is effective from the end of the 2019-2020 season,” Jorge Messi wrote in the letter.
“As the representative of professional football player Lionel Andres Messi and in response to the statement relating to the player’s contractual situation published by the Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional on August 30, 2020, Jorge Horacio Messi states that, quite apart from your obvious interest given the role that said institution [La Liga] has in the defence of its associates (the football clubs):
“First, we do not know what contract you have analysed and one what grounds you conclude that there is a rescission clause applicable in the case of him deciding to unilaterally end his contract from the end of the 2019-20 season.
“Second, that doing so [reaching that conclusion] is founded upon a clear error on your part. As clause 188.8.131.52 of the contract signed between the club and the player explicitly says: ‘This indemnity will not apply when the player’s decision to unilaterally rescind the contract is effective from the end of the 2019-2020 season.’”
La Liga took a dim view on the letter, and issued a swift response: “La Liga has responded to the message received from the representatives of the player Leo Messi.
“In its response, La Liga notes that their interpretation of the contract is out of context and far removed from its literal state. La Liga reiterates its statement published on 30 August.”
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