Wed. Oct 27th, 2021

Barcelona said they could not afford to keep the 34-year-old Argentinian superstar, a six-time Ballon d’Or winner.

Lionel Messi fought back tears as he began a press conference at which he confirmed he is leaving Barcelona, where he has played his entire career.

“I tried to behave with humility and respect and I hope that is what remains of me when I leave the club,” Messi told a news conference as hundreds of fans, many wearing his number 10 jersey, massed outside Barca’s Camp Nou stadium to bid farewell to the player.

The 34-year-old Argentinian superstar, six times a Ballon d’Or winner, has been out of contract since the end of June and Barca say they cannot afford to keep him.

“This year, my family and I were convinced we were going to stay here, at home – this is what we wanted more than anything,” said a suited Messi as he struggled to contain his emotions.

Messi did not say what his immediate plans were but said joining Paris St-Germain was one of the options.

“As long as I go on being competitive and as long as my body responds [I’ll carry on playing],” he added. “As long as I can, I will carry on competing.

The 34-year-old, who has been at Barcelona for 21 years, becoming its all-time goalscorer with 682, broke down before giving a speech and was greeted by a lengthy standing ovation from the media, current and former teammates and coaches in attendance.

Messi said that he believed he would be staying at the club, with a five-year deal agreed on a 50 percent pay-cut, only for a surprise U-turn to happen late last week.

“My contract was never the issue … What I know is that I did everything I could. The club say it could not happen because of La Liga. I can guarantee you that I did everything I could to stay. Last year I didn’t want to and I said that, but this year it was different.”

All 35 trophies he won during his time at the club were laid out for what the club described would be a private photo session after the news conference.

Fans await the arrival of Lionel Messi outside the Camp Nou [Albert Gea/Reuters]

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