Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest player in soccer history, has informed Barcelona of his intention to leave the club this summer, and to do so by activating a clause in his contract that would mean the team where the six-time world player of the year has spent his entire career would not be able to receive a transfer fee.
Messi, 33, has spent the days since Barcelona’s humiliation by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals just over a week ago watching his club descend into turmoil: The manager, Quique Setién, and sporting director, Eric Abidal, have left; Ronald Koeman, a former Barcelona player who most recently was coach of the Netherlands national team, was appointed to replace Setién, and immediately told several senior players — including Samuel Umtiti, Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitic and Messi’s neighbor and close friend, Luis Suárez — that they would not be required under his aegis.
Messi had told Koeman, in their initial conversations after the Dutchman’s appointment, that he was unsure if he would remain in Catalonia, according to news media reports. But on Tuesday, Messi put his decision in writing: Barcelona received a burofax, an official communication detailing that Messi intends to leave.
A club spokeswoman confirmed the club had received the document.
Messi’s representatives believe he can make that decision unilaterally, thanks to a clause in his contract that enables him to leave free as long as he announces his intention to do so before the end of the season.
Barcelona is expected to contest, though, quite when the end of the season is. The club believes the clause expired at the end of May, when the season was scheduled to end. Messi’s side apparently will argue that the exceptional circumstances of a pandemic-hit campaign rendered that timing irrelevant, and that he is able to activate the clause until the end of August.
He has, in his interpretation, done that by sending the club a signed document stating his intent. In essence, he has declared his two-decade spell at Barcelona — the club that signed him as a boy and where he turned into the best player in the world, winning 10 Spanish championships, four Champions League trophies and breaking almost every record imaginable — is over.