Barcelona captain Lionel Messi is thought to no longer be able to leave Camp Nou for free this summer after the clause in his contract allowing him to do so expired at the end of last month.
Messi is currently under contract with Barça until the summer of 2021, but it had been well publicised that the six-time Ballon d’Or held the option to leave the club – where he has spent well over half his life – without a transfer fee this year if he wished to.
The chance of Messi actually exercising his contracted right to leave without Barça seeing any money from a sale was always highly unlikely, but there had still been speculation about his future, especially given the recent tensions between the 32-year-old and the club.
The impact of the coronavirus crisis on the football landscape made it even more unlikely over the last couple of months, with Messi’s enormous contract already prohibitive to most as it was.
He didn’t opt to make use of the clause and ESPN has now reported that it actually expired on 30 May, citing ‘multiple sources’ at Barcelona to relay the news. If Messi wanted to leave, which he clearly doesn’t, he would have had to confirm his intentions to the club before the start of June.
Barça president Josep Maria Bartomeu confirmed last September that Messi could leave in 2020 if he wanted to, but explained it was not a type of clause that is new for the club.
“He can leave Barcelona before the start of the 2020/21 season. It’s something that other players like Xavi, [Andres] Iniesta and [Carles] Puyol have had in their contracts,” Bartomeu explained.
Messi’s longer term future is still not entirely certain. He will turn 33 later this month and as already mentioned his current contract at Camp Nou will expire at the end of next season, giving him just one more year before he is due to become a free agent.
Bartomeu expressed confidence last autumn that Messi won’t be leaving Camp Nou to play for another club and will be with the Blaugrana beyond 2021 as well.
That was, however, before Messi engaged in a public dispute with club official and former teammate Eric Abidal, while he later made his displeasure clear over the way Barça handled the situation relating to a 70% pay cut when the squad was already willing to accept it.
Barça have also been accused of hiring a company to attack and criticise players on social media in order to protect the reputation of Bartomeu, something the president and club firmly deny.
Even so, it is difficult to imagine Messi playing for any other club in Europe – even though Cristiano Ronaldo did eventually move on from Real Madrid – and it has been widely known for some time that he holds an ambition to play for boyhood club Newell’s Old Boys before he retires.
Yet that may also be increasingly unlikely, pointing to a higher possibility that Messi ultimately retires as a Barcelona player. He suggested in October last year that returning home to Argentina might not be compatible with the life that he has built for his family in Spain.
“I always say that I don’t want to leave here, I have no thoughts of ??moving,” Messi told TyC Sports at the time. “I have the dream of being able to play for Newell’s in Argentina, but I don’t know if it’s really going to happen because I have a family that is ahead of my desire.
“It’s a dream I’ve had since I was little, but I have a family, I have three children. I live in a place that has given me everything and where I am calm and can give my children a spectacular future. We think much more about that than my desire of playing football in Argentina.”
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