End of an Era: Lionel Messi to leave FC Barcelona

Credit: AP

Lionel Messi’s two-decade stay at Barcelona is over after “financial and structural obstacles” prevented him from signing a new deal, the LaLiga club announced.

Barca insist both they and Messi - widely considered one of the greatest footballers of all time - were willing to extend his stay, but claim LaLiga regulations have made that impossible.

A statement on the Catalan giants’ official website said: “Despite FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi having reached an agreement and the clear intention of both parties to sign a new contract today, this cannot happen because of financial and structural obstacles (Spanish Liga regulations).

“As a result of this situation, Messi shall not be staying on at FC Barcelona.”

The statement continued: “Both parties deeply regret that the wishes of the player and the club will ultimately not be fulfilled.

“FC Barcelona wholeheartedly expresses its gratitude to the player for his contribution to the aggrandisement of the club and wishes him all the very best for the future in his personal and professional life.”

Messi headed to the Nou Camp from his native Argentina, where he had learned his football with Newell’s Old Boys, as a 13-year-old in 2000 and progressed swiftly through the club’s junior ranks before making his senior debut as a late substitute against Espanyol at the age of 16 in October 2004.

News of the breakdown in talks is sure to prompt a scramble for his signature, but one seemingly reserved to an exclusive band of very rich pursuers.

Rosario-born Messi began his career in his native Argentina with Newell’s Old Boys – where he has hinted in the past he would like to end his playing days – but made his name in Europe after heading for the Nou Camp as a 13-year-old in 2000.

Lionel Messi Credit: Adam Davy/EMPICS Sport

He progressed swiftly through the ranks before making his senior debut a the age of 17 as a late substitute in a 1-0 league victory at Espanyol in October 2004.

What has followed has been little short of spectacular as a diminutive man with supreme natural talent and remarkable balance has taken the football world by storm with his remarkable contribution of his 672 goals in 778 appearances fuelling two decades of astonishing success.

Messi’s 35-trophy Barcelona honours roll extends to 10 league titles, four Champions League Crowns, seven Copas del Rey, three Club World Cups, the same number of European Super Cups and eight Spanish Super Cups.

However, he plunged himself into the midst of a sensational controversy last summer when, days after new manager Ronald Koeman had been installed, he told the club he wanted to leave with a year of his contract remaining with his camp believing he could do so on free transfer under the terms of his existing deal.

In the end, he reluctantly accepted he had to stay after Barca insisted he was subject to a 700 million Euros – around £629million – buy-out clause, an eye-watering sum even for football’s wealthiest investors.

If he was less than happy with his lot, it did not show on the pitch as he plundered 38 goals in 47 games as Barca won the Copa del Rey, but finished a distant third behind Madrid rivals Atletico and Real in the league and exited the Champions League in the last 16.