Lionel Messi dropped a bombshell when he intimated Barcelona of his desire to leave the club in the aftermath of the Catalan giants' 2-8 humbling against eventual champions Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals.
The club's worst defeat in all competitions in nearly seven decades marked Barcelona's first trophyless season in 12 years. Following that chastening defeat, Lionel Messi sent a fax to Barcelona where he intimated the club that he wished to leave in the summer.
After nearly two decades at the club, Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona would have marked the end of the last vestiges of the true one-club man.
The very real prospect of the all-time La Liga top-scorer leaving Camp Nou was enough to become the biggest story of the summer. But it was not as if clubs made a beeline for the signature of arguably the greatest player to have graced a football field.
That was because, even though Lionel Messi would undoubtedly enhance any side in the world, his base salary of $646,000 per week could only be afforded by a handful of ultra-rich clubs.
Lionel Messi apparently has a clause in his contract that allows him to leave on a free transfer at the end of every season. Disilllusioned by the recent performances of his beloved club, Messi thought that he could leave when Barcelona's season ended with a Champions League quarterfinal exit.
However, Barcelona opined that the particular clause in Messi's contract, which would have allowed him to leave for free, expired in June. In other words, it meant that any club interested in the services of the Argentine would have to trigger the player's massive release clause of €700 million.
Not many clubs in the world are capable of spending that amount on one particular player. Moreover, in a COVID-19-ravaged season where clubs' finances have taken massive hits because of the suspension of the season for a few months and playing games in empty stadiums, the likelihood of any club triggering Lionel Messi's gargantuan release clause was even more remote.
During days of intense speculation about Lionel Messi's plausible next destination, Manchester City were touted to be one of the most likely one as the club was managed by a certain Pep Guardiola who had managed the diminutive Argentine at Barcelona. But the club did not table a formal offer for the player.
Messi, on his part, was mindful of a likely protracted dispute between himself and Barcelona regarding the ambiguity about the 'expiry' of his release clause. The Argentine eventually put an end to what could have been the biggest story of the season by deciding to stay on at the club for at least one more season.
However, that does not mean that all is hunky dory about Lionel Messi and Barcelona. The player was unhappy about the club's poor performances in recent times and squarely laid the blame for the same on Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
Messi wanted to leave Barcelona this summer. But the prospect of a bitter legal dispute between him and the club forced the player to stay on till his contract with Barcelona expires in 2021.
“I wasn’t happy, and I wanted to leave. I have not been allowed this in any way, and I will stay at the club so as not to get into a legal dispute. The management of the club led by Bartomeu is a disaster,” Lionel Messi fumed during an interaction on Goal.
The Argentine said that because of the particular clause in his contract, he thought that he was free to leave at the end of the season, a season that ended late last month because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Barcelona were apparently unwilling to let go of their most prized asset with a whimper and opined that the clause in the player's contract expired two months ago, when the 2019-20 season was technically still in progress.
“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. Now they cling to the fact that I did not say it before June 10. “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,” said Messi.
Messi concluded by saying that he did not want to go to 'war' against the 'club of my life', a reason why he decided to stay on at Barcelona.
“The truth is that there is no project at this club. They just plug holes as and when things happen. I would never go for a war against the club of my life. That’s why I’m staying.”
During the period between Lionel Messi intimating the Barcelona board about his desire to leave and the player putting a plug on his departure, several players, retired and active, provided their opinion on the developing saga. On that note, let us have a look at what five such players had to say about Messi's impending Camp Nou exit.
Five players who provided their say about Lionel Messi's potential Barcelona departure:
#1: Carles Puyol (ex Barcelona player)
Former Barcelona captain Carles Puyol played alongside Lionel Messi for nine full seasons before leaving the club after the 2013-14 campaign.
Puyol, who is now a social campaigner and leads a quiet retired life, was one of the first high-profile names to comment on the Lionel Messi saga.
In his tweet dated 25th August, the day when Messi sent a burofax to intimate Barcelona of his desire to leave the club, Puyol eulogised his former teammate for his commitment to the Barcelona cause and expressed his support for the latter's decision.
The English translation of Puyol's tweet read:
"Respect and admiration, Leo. All my support, friend."
#2: Luis Suarez (Barcelona)
It has been three years since the Brazilian left the club for pastures anew, while Suarez has seen his stock spectacularly plummet in recent times as Barcelona endured their first trophyless season since 2007-08.
Following the appointment of new manager Ronald Koeman, Suarez was considered to be one of several players at the club who were apparently told that they were excess to requirements.
Suarez enjoys a very amiable relationship with Messi, both on and off the field. So when Messi expressed his intention to depart the club he called his home for a decade and a half, the Uruguayan striker replied with two emojis that may be construed to mean that Suarez supported Messi's decision, much like Puyol.
Alejandro Balbi, a lawyer who once represented Suarez, commented during an interview that because of the 'close' relationship between Messi and the Uruguayan player, Suarez's future could be 'intrinsically' tied with that of the Argentine.
"Messi's future will have an influence on Suarez's because they are best friends, they get along on and off the pitch. There is a lot of brotherly love between Messi and Suarez, they are inseparable, always together."
However, Suarez did not seem to concur with his former lawyer's opinion by saying that:
"There are people talking about me or on my behalf when I have not had a relationship with them for years. When I need to speak, I'll speak for myself."