Frustrated by the team’s direction after an 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals, Messi, 33, had sought to exercise an option in his contract that would allow him to leave on a free transfer.
However, the top Spanish league, La Liga, said the option expired in June and any team that wanted to acquire him would have to pay an $835 million fee. That would have hampered an effort to sign with Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain or another European power.
And so for now, the Argentine icon will remain with an organization where he developed as a boy and won four UEFA Champions League trophies and 10 La Liga titles. His contract, which pays him an estimated $34 million in base salary, is due to expire next summer.
“I always said this was my home and it was what I felt and feel,” Messi said in the Goal.com interview. “To decide there was somewhere better than here was difficult. I felt that I needed a change and new goals, new things.”
Although Messi said “my love for Barça will never change,” his criticism of club leadership and his desire to leave raise serious questions about whether his heart is still with Barcelona.
“I said it at the time that we were not given the support to win the Champions League,” he said. “Actually, now I don’t know what will happen. There is a new coach [Ronald Koeman] and new ideas. That’s good, but then we have to see how the team responds and whether or not it will help us compete at the top level.”
The embarrassing defeat to Bayern Munich last month extended Barcelona’s absence from the championship game of club soccer’s most prestigious tournament to five years — an eternity for the decorated club. The club also finished second in La Liga to bitter rival Real Madrid and lost in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals, marking the first year since 2008 in which Barcelona did not win any trophies.
Messi also has quarreled with the club president, Josep Bartomeu, who offered to resign to keep the prized forward at Barcelona. It’s highly unusual in modern-day sports, particularly international soccer, for a player to remain with one team his entire career.
For instance, Cristiano Ronaldo, who rivals Messi for best in the world over the past 15 years, began with Sporting Lisbon before moving to Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus.
“I wanted to go because I thought about living my last years of football happily,” Messi told Goal.com. “Lately, I have not found happiness within the club.”
Messi did not report to training camp this week. Barcelona is scheduled to open the season Sept. 26 at home against Villarreal.
Messi said the recent turmoil would not affect his play. Between 2009 and 2019, he averaged 52 goals per year across all competitions. This past season, he slipped to 31.
“My attitude will not change, no matter how much I have wanted to go," he said. “I always want to win, I’m competitive, and I don’t like to lose anything. I always want the best for the club, for the dressing room and for myself.”
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