Lionel Messi is leaving Barcelona, the Spanish club said Thursday.
“Despite club and player reaching an agreement and their clear intention to sign a new contract today, this cannot happen because of financial and structural obstacles,” Barcelona said in a statement on its website.
The 34-year-old, who last month won his first Copa America with Argentina, admitted in the summer of 2020 that he had wanted to leave “all year” and claimed a clause in his contract meant he could do so for free, but in the end Messi was forced to stay as Barcelona disagreed and wasn’t willing to reduce its €700 million ($897 million) release clause.
The Argentine said his love for the club meant he had no intention of disputing the club’s decision in court and dragging out a legal dispute.
Messi’s previous contract, which expired at the end of June, was revealed by Spanish newspaper El Mundo to be worth $672 million and made him the highest paid athlete in sports history.
“Both parties deeply regret that the wishes of the player and the club will ultimately not be fulfilled,” added the Barcelona statement.
“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 made his Barcelona debut in 2004, has won 10 La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues with the Catalan club.
In April, Messi won his 35th trophy with the club as Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao 4-0 in the Copa del Rey final.
As so often before it was Messi who stole the show, notably with Barcelona’s third goal and the Argentine’s first in the game.
Starting well inside his own half, Messi exchanged passes with Sergiño Dest, before whizzing forward and doing the same with Frenkie De Jong further up the pitch.
De Jong’s return past found Messi inside the penalty area and the Argentine skipped between two Bilbao defenders and coolly slotted the ball into the bottom corner.
It’s the kind of genius that fans have become accustomed to seeing when watching the diminutive No. 10 and it brought back memories of the opening goal in the 2015 Copa del Rey final – also against Bilbao – widely considered one of Messi’s greatest ever.
But the Copa del Rey triumph was Barcelona’s first trophy since 2019.
“It is very special to be captain of this team where I have spent my whole life,” Messi said after the game. “And very special to be able to lift the cup.”