Lionel Messi is to leave Barcelona after more than 20 years as he and the club were unable to agree a new deal to satisfy LaLiga’s financial regulations.
The Catalan giants sent shock waves across the football world on Thursday evening when they announced the 34-year-old Argentinian superstar was heading for the exit at the club he joined as a schoolboy and where he established himself as arguably the greatest player of all time.
A statement on Barca’s official website said: “Despite FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi having reached an agreement and the clear intention of both parties to sign a new contract today, this cannot happen because of financial and structural obstacles (Spanish Liga regulations).
“As a result of this situation, Messi shall not be staying on at FC Barcelona.
“Both parties deeply regret that the wishes of the player and the club will ultimately not be fulfilled.
“FC Barcelona wholeheartedly expresses its gratitude to the player for his contribution to the aggrandisement of the club and wishes him all the very best for the future in his personal and professional life.”
Messi, who tried to leave the club last summer, had been widely expected to agree a new deal despite being heavily linked with big-spending duo Manchester City and Paris St Germain in recent months.
News of the breakdown in talks is sure to prompt a scramble for his signature, but one seemingly reserved to an exclusive band of very rich pursuers.
Rosario-born Messi began his career in his native Argentina with Newell’s Old Boys – where he has hinted in the past he would like to end his playing days – but made his name in Europe after heading for the Nou Camp as a 13-year-old in 2000.
He progressed swiftly through the ranks before making his senior debut a the age of 17 as a late substitute in a 1-0 league victory at Espanyol in October 2004.
What has followed has been little short of spectacular as a diminutive man with supreme natural talent and remarkable balance has taken the football world by storm with his remarkable contribution of his 672 goals in 778 appearances fuelling two decades of astonishing success.
Messi’s 35-trophy Barcelona honours roll extends to 10 league titles, four Champions League Crowns, seven Copas del Rey, three Club World Cups, the same number of European Super Cups and eight Spanish Super Cups.
However, he plunged himself into the midst of a sensational controversy last summer when, days after new manager Ronald Koeman had been installed, he told the club he wanted to leave with a year of his contract remaining with his camp believing he could do so on free transfer under the terms of his existing deal.
In the event, he reluctantly accepted he had to stay after Barca insisted he was subject to a 700million Euros – around £629million – buy-out clause, an eye-watering sum even for football’s wealthiest investors.
If he was less than happy with his lot, it did not show on the pitch as he plundered 38 goals in 47 games as Barca won the Copa del Rey, but finished a distant third behind Madrid rivals Atletico and Real in the league and exited the Champions League in the last 16.
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