Lionel Messi, widely considered the world’s best footballer, has requested to leave FC Barcelona in a move that escalates the crisis that has engulfed the richest football club on the planet.
The Spanish side confirmed on Tuesday night that the Argentine player had sent an official document to Barcelona executives requesting a departure from the team he joined nearly two decades ago.
The 33-year-old’s request to leave has quickly turned into a dispute between club and player.
Barcelona said that Messi wanted to use a clause in his contract that suggests he is able to leave on a free transfer in the final year of his employment deal, which runs until June 2021.
However, the club’s position is that the deadline to trigger this clause has passed and that any rival team seeking to acquire Messi would need to pay a “buyout” fee worth €700m. The player has yet to make an official statement on his intentions.
Barcelona is in the midst of leadership crisis, following a humiliating 8-2 defeat against Bayern Munich of Germany in the quarter-finals of the Champions League this month, one of the worst losses in the club’s history.
In response, the club sacked Quique Setién as head coach and Eric Abidal as sporting director.
Josep Maria Bartomeu, the club president, has resisted calls to resign while suggesting there will be widespread changes to the team. Barcelona’s newly appointed head coach, Ronald Koeman, has said he considers Messi an integral part of the playing squad in the future.
In Barcelona’s colours Messi has won the Champions League four times. Europe’s most prestigious club competition generates €2bn in media contracts and prize money that is shared between participating clubs.
He has also been awarded the Ballon d’Or, the annual prize given to the world’s best footballer, a record six times.
On the back of this success, Barcelona has risen to become the world’s highest earning football club, with a business partly built on sponsorship and global merchandising sales that rely on Messi’s global celebrity.
Over the 2018-19 season, new commercial activities allowed the club to earn €840.8m, roughly €150m more than the same period a year earlier and €83.5m more than Real Madrid, the second-highest earning club.
However, Barcelona have failed to win a Champions League since 2015, suffering a series of collapses in the later stages of the competition in recent years that has led to Messi’s disillusionment from the club.