La Liga has dashed Lionel Messi's hopes of leaving Barcelona on a free transfer by stating his release clause will have to be paid if he is to leave the Nou Camp.
Messi notified Barcelona this week he intends to walk away from the club by exercising a clause in his contract that allows him to leave for free at the end of each season.
- Transfer Show: Messi keen on Pep reunion
- Carra: Messi wouldn't make Man City unbeatable
- Insight: Lionel Messi's contract situation explained
Even though the deadline to exercise the clause has passed, Messi's lawyers believe Barcelona should honour it as the season had to be extended because of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, La Liga has bolstered Barcelona's stance, with the club insisting the clause has expired and the only way Messi will be allowed to leave is if his €700m release clause is paid in full.
A La Liga statement on Sunday read: "With regard to the different interpretations (some of which are contradictory) relating to the current contractual situation of FC Barcelona footballer Lionel Andres Messi that have been published across various media outlets in recent days, having analysed the player's contract with the club, La Liga would like to clarify the following.
"The contract is currently valid and contains a release clause which is applicable should Lionel Messi decide to trigger the early unilateral termination of the contract, in accordance with article 16 of Royal Decree 1006/1985 of 26 June, which regulates the special employment status that professional sportspeople have.
"In compliance with the applicable regulations and protocol that apply in such instances, La Liga will not carry out the prior visa-release process for the player to be unregistered from the (Royal Spanish Football) Federation if the sum in the aforementioned clause has not been paid beforehand."
La Liga's intervention comes just hours after Messi failed to report for coronavirus testing at Barcelona's training complex, meaning he will be unable to participate in Ronald Koeman's first training session as the club's new head coach on Monday afternoon.
It is understood the 33-year-old warned the club in advance via Burofax - a form of recorded delivery provided by Spain's postal service - that he was not going to be present. If Messi does manage to negotiate his Barcelona exit, Manchester City are currently the favourites to sign him.
Messi's representatives are expected to meet with Barcelona officials next week to discuss the current impasse, and the 33-year-old still wants to personally meet with the club hierarchy to negotiate his release. The club have so far refused and said they will only meet to talk about a new contract.
The six-time Ballon d'Or winner's push to depart the Nou Camp comes after Barcelona finished the season without a trophy for the first time in 12 years and ended the campaign with a humiliating 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
Bartomeu interview casts doubt on Messi contract
A BarcaTV interview with club president Bartomeu from September 2019, in which he confirms Messi would be able to leave Barcelona for free before the 2020/21 season, has resurfaced online.
"Messi has a four-year contract that he signed two years ago, which stipulates that he can leave Barcelona before the final season, which is 2020/21," Bartomeu said in the interview.
"It's a personal decision for the player, whether he wants to retire or go to play wherever he wishes. It's a clause that other players have had as well, such as Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Carles Puyol, when we last extended their contracts.
"I don't think we need to worry about the players that I've mentioned and Leo Messi because they're so passionate about Barcelona that I doubt they'd want to move to another club, but they have to have that freedom to decide their futures and when they want to retire because they've earned it.
"I know Leo is very much a 'Cule' and I hope he stays at Barcelona for many more years."
Analysis: Meeting to firm up move away from Barca
Sky Sports News reporter Kaveh Solhekol:
"I think the situation is that Messi wants a meeting with the Barcelona board to reiterate his desire that he wants to leave.
"Barcelona's position is not going to change. Messi and his representatives think there is a clause in his contract which means he can leave for nothing this summer.
"I think the message he will get in that meeting from Barcelona is 'you are not going anywhere for free, if you want to leave we believe your contract says that there is a release clause of €700m, that is what it will take'."
Insight: 'Meeting did not go well for Messi'
Spanish football expert Alvaro Montero told Sky Sports News the seeds for Messi's decision were sown when he met new boss Ronald Koeman last week:
"The main thing is that the meeting last Friday with Ronald Koeman was not as good as they expected for a football club like Barcelona.
"The meeting with Koeman didn't go well, from Messi's opinion.
"Koeman told him that he didn't count, for example, with players such as Arturo Vidal or Luis Suarez. And Messi didn't like that.
"The way of Koeman treating him in the media and the way he has expressed the way he wants to work in Barcelona wasn't liked by Messi, so I think that was the situation."
Analysis: Man City is Messi's best option
Spanish football journalist Alvaro Montero on Sky Sports News:
"Manchester City is the best option because of the money, because of the Premier League and because of Pep Guardiola. Put everything together and it is a good situation for Messi.
"This evening in Spain, on a television programme, they said that Manchester United could be an option. Many people in Italy are saying that Inter [Milan] could be an option. I don't think so because there is a difference in the financial situation of the Premier League and Italy, France, Spain or Germany.
"Of course, the Premier League is also maybe the best league in the world so I think Premier League plus Manchester City plus Guardiola is a good cocktail altogether.
"We know the union of Guardiola and Messi at Barcelona eight or nine years ago was amazing. Maybe the best team in the world ever. I would say there is a huge possibility of Manchester City and I would say they are the first ones in this race."
Jamie Carragher admitted he would relish watching Lionel Messi playing in the Premier League, but said he does not believe the signing would make Manchester City unbeatable.
"I'd love to see Messi in the Premier League," Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports.
"I want to to watch him and I want to analyse him and look at him on Monday Night Football. The only place he can really go is Manchester City with the history he's got with the manager and with the financial clout the club have got."
All the latest news, analysis and rumours from the window in one place.
The summer transfer window will run for 10 weeks from July 27 and close at 11pm on October 5.
A domestic-only window for trades between the Premier League and EFL then runs from October 5 and closes on Friday, October 16 at 5pm. Follow all the news and analysis on Sky Sports News and across Sky Sports' digital platforms, including with our dedicated Transfer Centre blog.