Argentina and Spanish football club FC Barcelona legend Lionel Messi broke down in tears as he was given a standing ovation at a farewell press conference here on Sunday.
The 34-year-old striker, who is departing after more than two decades of playing for the club and setting several goal-scoring records for Barca, has been a free agent since July 1 when his contract with the club expired.
The Argentinian, who had guided his country to title triumph over arch-rivals Brazil in Copa America last month, had verbally agreed a new deal on reduced wages, but the Catalan club pulled the plug at the last minute.
FC Barcelona president Joan Laporta had said on Saturday that the talks over a new contract were off, adding that, “We’ve been in negotiations for more than two months and these discussions have now concluded. We cannot register the player (Messi) because we don’t have room for him in our wage bill.”
Messi enjoyed tremendous success at Camp Nou, winning 10 La Liga titles, four Champions League crowns and the Ballon d’Or six times.
Speaking at a press conference, which was also attended by the entire first team, Messi reiterated that he wanted to continue with the club and did “everything he could” to stay.
“I don’t know what to say here. These recent days I’ve been thinking, giving lots of thought to what I could say, and the truth is that I can’t think of anything. This is really difficult for me after so many years being here my entire life,” Messi was quoted as saying by metro.co.uk.
“I’m not ready for this and honestly last year with all the nonsense with the burofax and everything, I knew what I wanted to say. But this year, this year is not the same. This year my family and I were convinced that we were going to stay here, that we were going to stay at our home — that’s what we wanted more than anything.
“We always made this our home, we were at home, and we thought we would be staying here in Barcelona. The time we’ve had here in the city has been amazing. But wow, today I have to say goodbye to all of this.
“I’m been here so many years, my entire life, since I was 13. After 21 years I’m leaving with my wife, with my three little Catalan-Argentine kids and I can’t tell you everything we’ve lived in this city and I can’t say that in a few years we won’t come back, because this is our home and I promised my children that.
“I’m just really grateful for everything, all my teammates, all my former teammates, everyone at the club, everyone who has been by my side. There’s so many people, even some I only met a few times. I have so much respect. So many beautiful things have happened — also some bad things — but all of this helped me to grow, helped me to improve, and made me the person that I am today. I gave everything for this club, for this shirt, from the first day I arrived until the very last.”
It is rumoured that French club Paris Saint-German are at the frontrunners to sign Messi on a free transfer and have offered the legend a two-year deal in excess of 40 million euros per season along with huge signing-on fee.
Barcelona president Laporta had shut the door on the deal saying, “We cannot find a way around the current financial fair play rules and it doesn’t make any sense to continue (with discussions). The player also needs some time to assess the offers that he has on the table, and we need to respect that. It is painful, but we must now go on without Messi. It’s very sad, but it is a challenge and we need to address it as such.”