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Lionel Messi has put an end to his standoff with Barcelona, for now © AFP/File LLUIS GENE

Football

Messi admits he is forced to stay at Barcelona but long-term future in doubt

MADRID, Spain, Sep 4 – Lionel Messi said on Friday he will stay at Barcelona but only because the club’s president Josep Maria Bartomeu broke his word to let him leave.

Messi’s stinging attack on Bartomeu and the club means his future still remains in doubt.

Even if he is not allowed to go this summer, 33-year-old Messi can negotiate with other teams from January 1 and leave for free when his contract expires in July.

Bartomeu could yet respond with his resignation, having previously indicated he would step down if Messi publicly said he was the problem and agreed to stay.

But three hours after Messi’s explosive interview with Goal, Barcelona had not made any public statement.

“It has been a long time since there has been a project or anything at all,” Messi said. “They are always juggling and plugging gaps.”

Messi believed he had a clause in his contract that meant he could leave for free at the end of last season but Barca said that option expired on June 10.

“The president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I wanted to go or if I wanted to stay and in the end he didn’t end up keeping his word,” Messi said.

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“And this is the reason why I am going to continue in the club… because the president told me that the only way to leave was to pay the 700-million-euro release clause.

“This is impossible, and then the other way was to go to trial. I would never go to court against Barca because it is the club that I love, that gave me everything since I arrived, it is the club of my life, I have made my life here.”

Messi had requested to leave the club he joined as a boy following Barcelona’s humiliating 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League, with Manchester City the favourites to sign him.

His lawyers sent Barca a burofax on August 25 stating his intention to depart but Messi says he made his feelings clear to Bartomeu long before.

“I told the club, especially the president, that I wanted to go,” said Messi. “I’ve been telling him all year. I believed it was time to step aside.

– ‘Everything became difficult’ –

A boy wearing a Barcelona kit looks at a poster depicting players including Lionel Messi © AFP / Pau BARRENA

“I believed that the club needed more young people, new people and I thought my time in Barcelona was over, feeling very sorry because I always said that I wanted to finish my career here.

“It was a very difficult year, I suffered a lot in training, in games and in the dressing room. Everything became very difficult for me and there came a time when I considered looking for new goals, new horizons.

“It wasn’t because of the Champions League result against Bayern, I had been thinking about it for a long time. I told the president and the president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I wanted to go or if I wanted to stay and in the end he did not end up keeping his word.”

Barcelona ended the season without a trophy for the first time since 2008, which also extended Messi’s unsuccessful run in the Champions League to five years.

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He has scored 634 goals and won 34 titles with the club that he joined as a 13-year-old and where he came through the ranks at La Masia.

Messi said his decision to leave left his wife and three sons distraught.

“When I told my family that I could go it was a drama,” he said. “They all started crying.”

Despite his unhappiness at having to stay, the Argentinian insists he will give his all for the team next season under new coach Ronald Koeman, who is trying to overhaul the squad.

“I am going to continue at Barca and my attitude is not going to change, no matter how much I have wanted to go,” Messi said.

“I will do my best. I always want to win, I am competitive and I don’t like to lose ever.”

Messi was absent from pre-season training last week as he continued to try to force a move.

“I said before we couldn’t win the Champions League. Now I don’t know what will happen,” he added.

“There is a new coach and a new idea. That’s good, but then we have to see how the team responds and if it means we can compete or not. What I can say is that I’m staying and I’m going to give my best.”

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