Lionel Messi has told Barcelona he wants to leave the club after nearly two decades with the Spanish giants.
The club confirmed on Tuesday the Argentine sent a document expressing his desire to activate a release clause that would end his contract - which currently runs until next June - and allow him to leave for free this summer.
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Barcelona have received this in writing via a fax from his lawyers. They have not officially replied yet but are understood to be preparing one.
Barcelona do not agree the clause is still active. It is said to have expired on June 10 - 10 days after the original date of the Champions League final on May 30.
But Messi's lawyers are arguing that - in the spirit of the deal and good faith - the clause is still active after the rescheduled final on August 23, which was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement comes 11 days after Barcelona's humiliating 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals, one of the worst defeats in the player's career and in the club's history.
The defeat capped a difficult season for Barcelona - the first without a trophy since 2007-08 - and ignited one of their worst crises ever.
Messi has won a record six Ballon d'Or awards during his time at Barcelona as the top player in the world, and has helped the club win 10 Spanish league titles and four Champions Leagues.
Former Barcelona captain Carles Puyol reacted to the news Messi wants to leave, tweeting: "Respect and admiration, Leo. All my support, friend."
Last week, Barcelona's new head coach Ronald Koeman said he wants Messi to remain at the club.
Koeman said: "I don't know if I have to convince Messi [to stay]. Of course he is the best player in the world and you want the best player in the world in your team - you don't want him playing against you.
"For me as a coach, I would love to work with Messi because he wins matches. If he is at the ability and the level he has always shown, I would be more than happy for him to stay.
"He's still got a contract and he is still a Barcelona player. There are some older players in the team and we need to make some decisions but in Messi's case, I hope that he stays with us."
'We want to build a team around Messi'
Barcelona sporting director Ramon Planes insists the club want to build a team around Messi, despite the bombshell transfer request made by "the greatest player in the world".
Speaking at the official unveiling of €31m (£27.8m) signing Francisco Trincao on Wednesday, Planes said: "This is evidently the important news.
"As we've said many times, as [new head coach Ronald] Koeman and the president have said and my position as technical secretary, we count on Messi for the future, just as we count on Trincao as a talent of the future, and we have heard that he will play alongside the greatest player in the history, the greatest player in the world.
"These things happen and we hope we will come back stronger from the defeat at the end of last season.
"What's happened has happened and our idea is to build a team around the most important player in the world.
"We are not contemplating any kind of departure because what we want is for Messi to stay.
"We only have enormous respect for Leo Messi. Barca and Leo are like a marriage, where both have given so much to each other and have brought so much joy to the fans. I think the future is positive. I am an optimist.
"We are putting every effort into ensuring that the relationship between Barca and Messi will continue. We are working internally to convince Leo."
Analysis: Messi has done the right thing
Spanish football expert Graham Hunter told The Transfer Show:
"Messi has done the right thing and he should have done it earlier. His contract and the law may not support him, what Barcelona are saying is the 'get out of Barcelona free' - to pardon the Monopoly expression - is a clause he had built into his contract and I've seen very little examination of that.
"When his last contract was signed, they put that clause in and argued for a 'get out of jail free' clause at the end of every season. He had to inform the club in May that he wanted to leave and they had to allow him to leave for free. When that clause was inserted, it is typical of this club, if you look back at the Neymar fiasco, that they can be told something in big, bold writing and they misunderstand it or fail to act on it.
"So Messi and his people have been prepared to parachute out of a failing football club for a very long time. They will argue that although the timing for this clause in his contract has passed, they are going to say this was an odd season, an extended season and if months become transferable, they're going to argue that saying it in August is the same as saying it in May. I'm not sure if that will wash.
"I think if you view it as a strategy in order to get the president out, I think this president [Josep Maria Bartomeu] is too stubborn and too obstinate to try and sit this out and even fight in the courts over this contract, which would be a disgraceful scenario. The presidential elections are in a year and I don't think the president will bring them forward, even to save this situation."
Analysis: Could Messi leave for free?
Sky Sports News reporter Dharmesh Sheth told The Transfer Show:
"The facts of the matter are that he has a release clause in his contract of €700m so, whether he wants to leave or not, who can afford €700m?
"However, there is a clause within that contract that says Messi can leave for free at the end of every season, should he decide that he wants to leave Barcelona, so you would think then that Messi is available for no money at all.
"However, there is a little bit of confusion with this one because Messi will say the season has finished late and, under the contract, the season finishes and I can leave for free.
"But Barcelona will say this is an exceptional circumstance that the season got extended and they will refer to when the season would have ended before, which would have been in May or early June.
"They will say that is when the clause expires, so the £700m release clause becomes active once more.
"Until they sort that out, Messi can say I want to leave Barcelona, he can express his desire to leave but, until this release clause issue gets sorted, and whether he can actually leave for free, you have to wonder who can actually pay €700m to buy Messi?"
Analysis: An epic failure if Messi leaves for free
Spanish football expert Terry Gibson told Sky Sports News:
"I think the catalyst was the news today that Koeman told Luis Suarez that there wasn't a future for him at the club. We know how close Suarez and Messi are and that's probably the final straw for the great Argentine striker.
"They're using August 31 as their template to try and get Messi to leave on a free transfer, according to the agreements they've had in place for a number of years. When I say he comes on a free transfer, he probably comes with €100m per week salary but in terms of a transfer fee paid to Barcelona, Messi and his advisors are asking that he can leave and be allowed to leave on a free transfer, which would be astonishing.
"He is a player we all expected to finish his career at Barcelona and that should be the case. But the sad matter of fact is the club has been an absolute shambles for at least two years, you can maybe argue five or six years, and I think Messi has just had enough.
"The situation with the president, Bartomeu, he is going to be leaving the club at the end of next season. He can't be elected to stay on for another term and I think this is a power play from Messi and his camp at the very least, if he has any intention of staying at the club, to make sure the president leaves now. If there is a choice between the Barcelona supporters of who stays or who goes between Messi and the president, there's only one winner there.
"This story has got legs, it's not going to be resolved quickly. Barcelona are going to do everything they can to at least try and get a transfer fee for arguably the best player that has ever played football and I think it's a sad day for Barcelona.
"If they allow this to happen, their iconic player among so many iconic players, if they allow him to leave and to pursue his career elsewhere, it is an epic failure for whoever is running the club at the moment."
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: Where could Messi go next?
Sky Sports News reporter Kaveh Solhekol told The Transfer Show:
"The bigger picture here is almost a war between Messi and the Barcelona board. He has fallen out with them, he wants out of the club, he is not happy with the direction the club has been led in.
"The important thing is - will he get his way? Will he be able to force his way out of Barcelona? That is the first hurdle he has to clear. The second hurdle is, can he find a club who can afford to pay him?
"When you think about it, how many clubs are there in the world that can afford to pay Messi the kind of money he's on?
"In the current economic climate, I cannot see another club in the world that can afford to match the money he's on at Barcelona.
"But - who could afford it?
"Yesterday, the Man City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak accepted that normally, they sign players aged between 20 and 25, but they were willing to make an exception this summer to buy somebody who is a bit more experienced.
"Messi is 33, does that mean Man City are interested in signing him?
"PSG could afford to sign him as well. They have Kylian Mbappe, they have Neymar - and spent £200m getting him out of Barcelona - would they want to Messi as well?
"When you're looking at his situation, I don't think it's done and dusted that he's going to leave Barcelona just because he sent a letter saying he wanted to. It doesn't mean the board will let him leave.
"The second problem then is where is he going to go to.
"In normal circumstances, it would be difficult but in the present economic climate, it's almost impossible to work out who could sign him."
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 Lionel 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 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 Pep Guardiola is a good cocktail altogether.
"We know the union of Pep 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."
Analysis: Messi, Neymar, Mbappe at PSG?
Spanish football expert Graham Hunter on Sky Sports News:
"I think that the field has probably narrowed down to a couple of clubs.
"Inter Miami - David Beckham's franchise - have long tried to tempt Messi and Luis Suarez to come together. That would be a big surprise to me because the MLS is not competitive enough football.
"Inter Milan want him. I don't think he's going to accept going there.
"At the moment, as far as I know, the field is two clubs - Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City.
"Imagine Paris Saint-Germain with a front three of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Messi, being fed by Ander Herrera and Angel Di Maria. For football that is something that is such a delightful prospect that I imagine the Parisians are probably in pole position right now. But we'll see, City will have something to say about that."
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