Lionel Messi leaves Barcelona after new deal collapses 'due to economic obstacles'

Argentine forward had been expected to sign a new contract after his previous deal expired at the end of June

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Lionel Messi will not sign a new contract at Barcelona "due to economic and structural obstacles" and is no longer associated with the club, the Spanish giants announced on Thursday

Messi's previous contract had expired at the end of June and the Argentine forward was expected to agree new terms having agreed to take a 50 per cent pay cut.

However, Barcelona have released a statement confirming Messi will no longer be signing a new deal and has formally left the club.

"Despite having reached an agreement between FC Barcelona and Leo Messi and with the clear intention of both parties to sign a new contract today, it cannot be formalised due to economic and structural obstacles (Spanish LaLiga regulations)," the statement read.

"As a result of this situation, Messi shall not be staying on at FC Barcelona. Both parties deeply regret that the wishes of the player and the club will ultimately not be fulfilled.

"Barca would like to thank with all its heart the player's contribution to the enhancement of the institution and wishes him the best in his personal and professional life."

Messi was free to negotiate a transfer with other clubs after his deal ran out at the end of June, but Barcelona had always maintained he wanted to stay with the club. The 34-year-old was reportedly set to sign a new five-year deal.

To balance the books in order to retain Messi, Barcelona - who have suffered financially during the coronavirus pandemic - were required to move players out and were aiming to use the funds raised towards a new contract for their greatest ever player.

Messi's agreed salary cut would have dropped his annual basic pay from around €45 million ($53.3m) to €20m. In total, Messi earned approximately €138m a year.

Therefore, to keep Messi, Barca would have to reduce their wage bill by around €200m to successfully pass La the Financial Fair Play requirements laid out by La Liga. Barca's total deby currently stands at around €1.173 billion.

The news of Messi's exit also comes a day after La Liga agreed in principle to sell 10 per cent of a newly formed company housing most of its business to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners for €2.7 billion.

Messi had tried to leave Barcelona in August 2020, making a formal request for an exit after a break down in his relationship with then president Josep Maria Bartomeu but successor Joan Laporta, who presided over the Argentine's rise to greatness, convinced him to stay.

The burning question now is where Messi will be playing his football next season. Premier League champions Manchester City had been linked with a move last summer when the Argentine attempted to engineer an exit, but would appear unlikely to make an approach this year as they close in on a deal for England midfielder Jack Grealish in what is expected to be a British transfer record fee.

French giants Paris Saint-Germain, where Messi's former teammate and close friend Neymar plies his trade, would be one of the few clubs who could match his wage demands. A move to the United States and Major League Soccer has also been mooted.

Another pressing concern for Barcelona is how they are going to be able to register the new signings they have made this summer. Messi's international teammate Sergio Aguero, Dutch ofrward Memphis Depay, and Spanish defender Eric Garcia have all arrived on free transfers, but whether Barca have enough in the budget - having been unable to secure Messi's future - remains to be seen.

Messi, who joined Barca's youth set up aged 13, is the club's all-time top scorer and appearance maker with 672 goals in 778 games in all competitions. He has helped Barcelona win 10 La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues, seven Copa del Reys, and three Fifa Club World Cups.

He leaves the club just weeks after finally winning a major international trophy with Argentina, whom he led to the Copa America title and was named the player of the tournament.

Updated: August 05, 2021, 11:45 PM