Lionel Messi has broken his silence to say he will remain at Barcelona next season – but only to avoid dragging his club of 19 years through the courts.
"I will never go to court against the club of my life, that's why I am staying", he said in an extraordinary interview with Goal.
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The six-time Ballon d’Or winner asked to leave the club after a trophyless season that culminated in an 8-2 humiliation against Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
He was linked with a sensational reunion with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, but reports surfaced in Argentina earlier this week that Messi would see out the remaining year of his contract amid a legal battle.
And that was confirmed on Friday in an interview in which Messi criticised club president Josep Maria Bartomeu for breaking a promise that he could leave.
"I thought and was sure that I was free to leave, the president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I stayed or not," he said.
"Now they cling to the fact that I did not say it before June 10, when it turns out that on June 10 we were competing for La Liga in the middle of this awful coronavirus and this disease altered all the season.
"And this is the reason why I am going to continue in the club. Now I am going to continue in the club because the president told me that the only way to leave was to pay the €700 million clause, and that this is impossible."
Eurosport Spain later reported that City still expect to sign Messi on a free transfer next summer.
Lionel Messi of Barcelona looks down during the Liga match between Deportivo Alaves and FC Barcelona
Image credit: Getty Images
'MY FAMILY WAS CRYING... BUT I WANT TO COMPETE AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL'
Messi contacted Barca chiefs by burofax to demand a free transfer in August, despite having a €700 million buyout clause in his contract after missing a June 10 deadline to leave for nothing.
But his lawyers argued that the June date should be pushed back because the 2019-20 season was extended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"When I communicated my wish to leave to my wife and children, it was a brutal drama," Messi said.
"The whole family began crying, my children did not want to leave Barcelona, nor did they want to change schools.
"But I looked further afield and I want to compete at the highest level, win titles, compete in the Champions League. You can win or lose in it, because it is very difficult, but you have to compete.
"At least compete for it and let us not fall apart in Rome, Liverpool, Lisbon. All that led me to think about that decision that I wanted to carry out."
Messi still could have pursued a transfer if he had taken the club to court over his disputed release clause, but he said that the idea never crossed his mind.
"It is the club of my life, I have made my life here," he added.
"Barca gave me everything and I gave it everything. I know that it never crossed my mind to take Barca to court."