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 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.”
So, where next for Messi?
It goes without saying that even at 34, Messi - widely regarded as the best ever male footballer - is the hottest property to ever become a free agent.
However, his astronomical wages at Barcelona, plus the club’s perilous financial position, ultimately proved the stumbling blocks to him staying - even though he was willing to take a drastic pay cut to stay.
That means there are likely few clubs in world football who could afford Messi, particularly given the impact the pandemic has had on clubs’ finances.
Manchester City have the financial muscle and the pull of Pep Guardiola to tempt Messi, but they are signing Jack Grealish for £100million and also want Harry Kane, who would cost at least £130m - and that means that even with City’s cash, a deal for Messi could prove difficult.
City’s rivals Manchester United may be tempted to make a statement of intent, but they too have also spent big on Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varanr - but what better way for the Glazers to appease a frustrated fanbase than by signing the best player in history?
Chelsea are another Premier League side who have the financial means to put together an offer for Messi, but they have a stocked midfield and attack and are looking to buy Romelu Lukaku in a £100m+ deal from Inter - but would they shelve those plans for Messi?
Perhaps the smart money is on a reunion with Neymar in Paris. PSG have the money and the pull of one of the most glamorous cities in the world, and despearately want to finally win that elusive CHampions League... and who better to deliver it than an attack of Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe?
A romatic return to Argentina with Newell’s Old Boys is also a possibility, while Messi actually staying at Barxa shoudn’t be ruled out if the player delays a decision.
Lionel Messi next club odds (via Betfair)
Man City: 21/10
To stay at Barcelona: 10/3
Any MLS club: 11/1
Inter Milan: 12/1
Manchester United: 18/1
Newell’s Old Boys: 20/1