Lionel Messi says he will remain at Barcelona next season after performing a shock U-turn on his future.
Messi had believed that a clause in his contract would allow him to leave for free this transfer window, but Barcelona and La Liga insist that his €700m release clause would need to be paid in full.
“I thought and we were sure that I’d be a free agent,” Messi told Goal.
“The president always told me that I could decide to stay or go at the end of the season and they’re now clinging to the fact that I hadn’t said anything by June 10, when it turns out that on June 10 the La Liga season was still ongoing and we were in the midst of this virus and this illness that altered the whole fixture calendar.
“And that’s the reason why I’m staying on at the club. I’m now staying because the president told me that the only way I could leave was by paying the €700m release clause, which is impossible.”
Messi’s father and agent Jorge wrote to La Liga on Friday insisting his son is contractually allowed to leave Barcelona for free in the current transfer window.
However, La Liga responded with a statement shortly after Messi’s declaration – reiterating its stance that the €700m release clause remains valid.
“It’s the club of my life, I’m settled here, Barca have given me everything and I’ve given them everything. The idea of taking Barca to trial never crossed my mind.”
Messi had informed the club of his desire to leave via an official note last week, and did not turn up for the team’s first five days of pre-season training under new boss Ronald Koeman.
The six-time Ballon d’Or winner says he wants to leave Barcelona to compete at the highest level after a disappointing season, which culminated in a 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
“It was a massive drama when I told my wife and my sons. The whole family was in tears, my sons didn’t want to leave Barcelona or have to change schools,” added Messi.
“I looked at the bigger picture and I want to be competing at the very top of the game, winning trophies and fighting to win the Champions League.
“You can end up winning it or not, because it’s a really tough competition, but you’ve got to give yourselves a fighting chance.
“You’ve got to at least be in the mix and what we can’t be having is what happened against Roma and Liverpool and in Lisbon.”
Messi insists he will continue to give his all next season despite seeking a move away from the Nou Camp.
“I’m going to stay at Barca and there’ll be no change in terms of my attitude, regardless of the fact I wanted to leave. I’ll be giving my all,” he said.
“I always want to win, I’m competitive and never like losing in anything. I always want the best for the club, the dressing room and for me.
“I said that we weren’t good enough to win the Champions League. In truth, I don’t know how things are going to work out now.
“We’ve got a new coach and there are new ideas. That’s positive, but we’ll have to see how the team responds and whether we’ll have what it takes to compete or not. The only thing I can say for sure is that I’m staying and will be giving my all.”
Sky Sports News’ Dharmesh Sheth: “It strikes me as one of the uneasiest truces you could come to. I don’t think either party can claim victory. The courts would have been the only way through this but Messi did not want to go to court with ‘the club of his life’.
“A court case would never have concluded before the transfer window closed so we would have ended up on the position we are now: no move for Messi and no money for Barcelona. In an ideal situation, Messi would want to go. In an ideal situation, Barcelona would have wanted 700m euros or a substantial transfer fee. Neither Messi nor Barcelona have got what they want.”
‘Koeman will have an unhappy Messi’
Sky Sports News’ Gary Cotterill in Barcelona: “It’s bad news for Manchester City and their fans. Messi tried his hardest to get the club to agree to his release but he’s staying.
“It’s been made clear by president Bartomeu and the Barca board to Messi’s camp – mainly his father – that they would dig their heels in and they wouldn’t let him go for free this year.
“It’s a surprising stance because Barca have a big black hole in their finances; to let Messi go for free would have been incredible but they certainly would have got his massive wages off the bill. But Messi, despite all the trouble between the two parties, is staying.
“Ronald Koeman is going to have a very unhappy player on his hands you would have thought. Messi has vowed to do his best for the club and fans he loves but it will be interesting to see how he performs under a head coach he didn’t want and a president he doesn’t get along with.”
‘Messi could extend stay if Bartomeu leaves’
Spanish football journalist Alvaro Montero believes Messi could extend his stay at Barcelona beyond next season if club president Josep Maria Bartomeu leaves.
“The very first moment he scores a goal and plays as well as he can, I think Barcelona fans could forgive him,” Montero told Sky Sports News.
“If you ask Barcelona fans about Lionel Messi and Josep Maria Bartomeu, I would say 95 per cent would be with Messi and not Bartomeu and his board members.
“I think that it will be easier for Messi to stay if Bartomeu is out. That relationship is impossible to fix, so if Bartomeu leaves after the elections and there is a new president, the possibility could increase.”