The clause allowing Lionel Messi to walk away from Barcelona for free this summer expired over the weekend, sources at the club confirmed to ESPN, meaning he will remain at Camp Nou for at least another 12 months.
Messi, 32, signed terms, which run until the end of the 2020-21 campaign, in 2017. At the time, a clause was included that he could leave for nothing in the summer of 2020 as long as he communicated his decision to Barca before June.
Multiple sources at Barca have told ESPN that the actual deadline was May 30, coinciding with the date when this season’s Champions League final was supposed to take place in Istanbul. ESPN contacted Messi’s camp for confirmation, too, but they said, as a rule, “we don’t speak about contractual issues.”
El Pais first revealed the details of Messi’s contract situation last September and they were later confirmed by teammate Gerard Pique, who said Messi has “earned the right to be able to choose what he does with his future after everything he’s given the club.”
Several teams, including Manchester City, have been monitoring Messi’s situation since, but sources inside the Barca hierarchy have always maintained their belief that the club’s record goalscorer would stay put.
There have been moments when that belief may have wavered. Messi rowed with sporting director Eric Abidal on Instagram earlier this year and used the players’ announcement that they would take a 70% pay cut due to the coronavirus pandemic to express “surprise that from inside the club there would be people that want to pressure us into something that we were always clear we wanted to do.”
Despite that, Messi has always insisted he would like to end his career “at home” in Barcelona, although he has also suggested he would be open to a stint at boyhood club Newell’s Old Boys in his native Rosario before he finally hangs up his boots.
“I love Barcelona but I really do miss Rosario,” he said in February. “This is my home, I’ve been here longer than Argentina. I love Barcelona, where I live and I really enjoy what I do for a living.”
Messi moved to Barcelona as a teenager and, since signing his first professional contract in 2005, he has been handed eight renewals by the Catalan club, with his release clause rising to €700 million in the process.
Barca now hope to tie Messi down to another new deal as he moves into the final years of his career. The club’s president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, wants to make sure the six-time world player of the year has agreed to new terms before his mandate expires in 2021.
Bartomeu has previously spoken about offering Messi a lifetime contract, similar to the one signed by Andres Iniesta, and hopes to begin talks with Messi’s father, Jorge, who is in Argentina at the moment, when some form of normality returns following the coronavirus crisis.
With 627 goals, Messi is the top scorer in Barcelona’s history by a distance. He has also made 718 appearances for the club, a figure only bettered by Xavi Hernandez’s 767.
He will be central to Barca’s title hopes when they return to La Liga action on June 13 against Mallorca. They are two points clear of Real Madrid with 11 games to play following a three-month stoppage due to the coronavirus.
Games will be played behind closed doors, with Messi saying on Sunday that “life and football will never be the same again” because of the pandemic, which has taken almost 400,000 lives across the world.