Soccer

Lionel Messi confirms he will stay at Barcelona

Argentina forward reverses decision to leave Camp Nou
‘The management of the club led by Bartomeu is a disaster’

Messi announced his decision in an extensive interview with Goal on Friday evening

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SPORT PRESS GROUP

Lionel Messi is staying at Barcelona. Ten days after he served official notice of his determination to walk out of the Camp Nou, he finally announced that he would not be going after all – not because he had changed his mind, but because he had been left with no choice.

Unwilling to go to court against the club who insisted he had missed the deadline allowing him to rescind his contract and threatened him with legal action if he departed unilaterally, he has been forced to continue.

Messi announced his decision in an extensive interview with Goal on Friday evening, in which far from trying to draw a line under what has happened or paint a picture of harmony, he admitted he wanted to go and accused the club’s president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, of going back on an agreement to let him leave.

The only reason he did not depart, Messi insisted, was because he did not want it to end up in a legal battle. “I would never go to court against Barcelona,” he said.

Messi said he had repeatedly informed Bartomeu that he wanted to leave throughout the season, and offered a portrait of a club that “has had no project or anything for a long time”. He stays unwillingly, and far from happy. He has one year left on his deal, meaning he can talk to other clubs officially from 1 January and walk out next summer – a year late.

“I told the club that I wanted to go. I had been telling him that all year,” he said. “The club needed new, younger players and my time was over.”

Messi had delivered a burofax to Barcelona on 25 August, officially informing them he was leaving, per a clause in the contract he signed in 2017 that allows him to walk away for free at the end of each season. Barcelona replied with a burofax of their own informing him they would not sell and insisting he remained under contract because he had failed to inform them before the 10 June deadline.

Messi’s legal representatives argued that date should be put back because the season had been extended because of the coronavirus crisis – on 10 June, Barcelona were still playing. Messi’s decision not to turn up for preseason training was consistent with a legal position in which he claimed he had effectively departed having triggered his unilateral escape clause.

Messi’s final admission of defeat and the announcement he is staying came just hours after a public letter from his father to the president of the league, Javier Tebas, reiterated their claim that he was no longer bound by the €700m buyout clause.

Ultimately, though, with the date in his contract clear, Messi’s legal position was not sufficiently watertight to force a departure. He could have signed for another club and requested that Fifa issue an international transfer certificate, pending a final resolution, but that was a risky strategy that neither he nor Manchester City were prepared to follow.

From the start, City felt there was a chance of signing Messi but knew it would not be simple. While they guided him, they needed him to free himself of his contract first.

Nor, as it turned out, was the threat of Messi walking away unilaterally enough to force Barcelona to negotiate his exit, despite the club’s desire to renew the squad and the economic boost his departure might have provided at a time of financial crisis.

At a meeting on Wednesday evening, the club and the player remained locked in stalemate, with Barcelona telling him that if he did insist upon departing they would take legal action.

“I’m staying because the president said the only way to go was to pay the €700m clause, which is impossible, [or] the other way was to go to court,” Messi said.

“I wanted to go and I was totally within my rights because the contract said I could leave for free. It wasn’t just: ‘I’m going.’ It was very hard to go. I wanted my final years of football to be happy and I didn’t find happiness at the club. There was nothing wrong with [me] going at that point. I needed it, the club needed it, it was good for everyone.

“The burofax was a way of making it official,” Messi added. “I spent the whole year telling the president I wanted to go, that the moment had come to take a new direction. He told me all the time: ‘We’ll talk, but not now because of this or that’. He didn’t take on what I was saying to him. Sending the burofax was to make it official that I wanted to go and that I was a free agent. I wasn’t trying to cause a mess or go against the club; it was just a way of doing it officially because my mind was made.

“They say I didn’t inform them before 10 June but, I repeat, we were in the middle of competition and it’s not the [right] time. …Besides, the president always said: ‘When the season ends, you decide if you want to stay or go.’ He never put a date on it.”

He added: “I don’t know what will happen now. But I will give my best.”

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