Lionel Messi, one of the greatest soccer players the sport has ever seen, told Barcelona on Tuesday that he wants to leave after nearly two decades with one of the most recognizable clubs in the world.
Barcelona confirmed to The Associated Press that Messi sent a letter to the club requesting to leave, but the club said that a legal battle could be coming and it won’t automatically grant the Messi his wishes. Barcelona responded to Messi by saying that it wants him to finish his career with the team.
The club said that the document that was sent to them by Messi referenced a clause allowing him to leave for free at the end of the season, but Barcelona said the deadline passed in June. Messi’s contract also includes a 700 million euro ($826 million) buyout clause.
La Liga should have ended in May, but it was pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“If Messi is to leave Barcelona by activating a release clause, then I hope the club (tries) to help, not hinder him,” former England and Barcelona striker Gary Lineker said on Twitter. “He’s been fiercely loyal and their greatest ever player. It would be terribly sad if it finished with a fight between the player and the club.”
If Messi can leave for free, he will have no shortage of suitors. However, only a handful of clubs could realistically afford to pay his wages even without a transfer fee — with mega-rich Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City widely seen as perhaps the most likely destinations.
The 33-year-old Messi has won a record six Ballon d’Or awards during his time at Barcelona as the top player in the world, and has helped the club win 10 Spanish league titles and four Champions League crowns.
Messi led Barcelona to 34 titles. He holds most individual records at the club, scoring 634 goals and making 276 assists in 731 appearances with the club.
Messi’s announcement came 11 days after Barcelona’s humiliating 8-2 loss to Bayern in the Champions League quarterfinals, one of the worst defeats in the player’s career and in the club’s history.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.