Messi staying at Barca

MADRID • Lionel Messi ended intense speculation about his future yesterday by saying that he will remain with Barcelona for another year – but only because he did not want to enter a court battle with the Spanish club about his contract.

The Argentinian six-time world player of the year had told the La Liga club last month that he wanted to leave, insisting that a clause in his contract allowed him to do so on a free transfer.

Barcelona, backed by La Liga, have insisted that a €700 million (S$1.12 billion) release clause would have to be paid.

“I wasn’t happy and I wanted to leave. I have not been allowed this in any way and I will stay at the club so as not to get into a legal dispute. The management of the club led by (president Josep Maria) Bartomeu is a disaster,” Messi told website Goal.com.

“There was another way and it was to go to trial,” he added. “I would never go to court against Barca because it is the club that I love, which gave me everything since I arrived. It is the club of my life, I have made my life here.

“Barca gave me everything and I gave it everything. I thought and was sure that I was free to leave. The president always said that at the end of the season, I could decide if I stayed or not.

“Now they cling to the fact that I did not say it before June 10, when it turns out that on June 10 we were competing for La Liga in the middle of this awful coronavirus and this disease altered all the season.”

The 33-year-old added: “When I communicated my wish to leave to my wife and children, it was a brutal drama. The whole family began crying, my children did not want to leave Barcelona, nor did they want to change schools.”

The announcement was ironic given that just hours earlier, his father and agent, Jorge, had published a letter sent to La Liga dismissing its claim that the release clause in Messi’s contract still applied if he were to leave Barcelona and join a rival club.

La Liga had released a statement last Sunday saying his contract was still valid, days after his shock announcement that he wanted to leave the club in the close season and hours after he failed to attend a pre-season medical test.

Jorge claimed the release clause was removed once the player took up the option in his contract to leave for free, which Messi’s side believe he did when he notified Barca by burofax on Aug 25.

“We do not know which contract they have analysed and on what basis they have concluded it would have an applicable ‘termination clause’ in the event that the player decides to unilaterally revoke the contract after the conclusion of the 2019-20 season,” Jorge wrote in a letter published on social media.

“This is due to an obvious error on your part… It is obvious that the compensation of €700 million, provided for in the previous clause… does not apply at all.”

La Liga, however, produced a swift response to the statement, its stance remaining the same, saying: “They have made a decontextualised interpretation and moved away from the literality of the contract.” It reiterated that the clause is “absolutely valid”.

The validity of the release clause in Messi’s contract is important because its existence means he could be liable to pay the amount himself if he joined another club but lost a subsequent legal battle in court.

Messi will now prepare to start the season under new Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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