Lionel Messi Says He Will Stay With Barcelona

It is not the first time Messi has reversed course. The forward caused hysteria in his homeland in 2016 when he quit the national team, citing his frustration with the federation. But less than two months later, amid pleas from teammates, fans and even the country’s president, Messi changed his mind.

In the current situation, Barcelona and Messi had agreed upon a clause that would allow him to walk away without commanding a transfer fee as long as he communicated his desire to leave before the end of the season. But the havoc wrought on the soccer schedule by the pandemic meant the Spanish season did not finish until months after the date stipulated in the agreement. Messi complained that Bartomeu did not keep to the spirit of the accord and insisted Messi stay unless suitors pay the full buyout clause, which Messi called “impossible.”

Messi said that given his relationship with the club and its supporters he could not countenance the idea of pursuing a damaging lawsuit to force his way out of the club. Instead, he will remain to help pick up the pieces as Barcelona prepares to rebuild itself after a catastrophic year on and off the field.

A new coach, Ronald Koeman, has already been hired and several senior players, including Messi’s close friend Luis Suárez, have been told they have no future at the Camp Nou.

Koeman, appointed in the wake of the humbling against Bayern, had spoken to Messi shortly before the player stunned the club by announcing his intention to leave. News reports in Spain at the time suggested that the new Dutch coach, a former player with Barcelona, had warned Messi that he would no longer receive special treatment — a threat, it was suggested, that made Messi more determined to leave.

Instead the two will have to form an uneasy alliance for at least a year and try to shake Barcelona out of a slump that had been building in recent seasons. The surrender to the German champion came after similar capitulations in the Champions League against Roma and Liverpool in recent seasons. Messi said those failures drove his decision to seek a new challenge in the final years of his career. Messi was 28 when the team won its last European Cup.

“I looked further afield and I want to compete at the highest level, win titles, compete in the Champions League. You can win or lose in it, because it is very difficult, but you have to compete,” he said.