Lionel Messi confirmed on Sunday that he is leaving Barcelona after 17 trophy-laden years with Paris Saint Germain.
“I have still not come to terms with the reality of leaving this club now — I love this club,” said Messi as he wiped away his tears during a press conference at the club’s Camp Nou ground, where he got a standing ovation.
Messi joined FC Barcelona (FCB) when he was thirteen. He has won 35 trophies at the Barcelona club, including four Champions Leagues and ten league titles, while setting his 672 goals record.
Despite offering to cut his salary by half to seal a new five-year deal in which a club carrying debts of 1.2 billion euros ($1.5 billion) and the player had agreed on, the agreement foundered on strict Spanish League salary restrictions.
Barca president Joan Laporta said he could not “mortgage” the club’s future on any player — not even Messi.
Previously Messi had been earning over 70 million euros ($82.3m) a year net — but financial observers of the Spanish game estimate he pulled in around twice as much in commercial revenue, accounting for almost one-third of total incomings and eight in ten shirt sales.
Messi tried to engineer his departure last year, fed up with some underwhelming recent Champions League showings.
But he stayed and stressed on Sunday that he and his family had wanted to continue in Catalonia rather than embark on a likely reunion with former clubmate Neymar at PSG.
“I would’ve liked to have won another Champions League,” said Messi.
“I don’t regret anything, I tried to give my best, and I’m ending my career here with a good number of titles”.
He also said he had been completely transparent throughout the saga regarding his intentions.
“I gave everything for this club from the first day that I arrived right to the last. I never imagined having to say goodbye.”
“I’m not ready for this,” he said, again choking back tears as thousands of fans waited outside to salute their icon, whose first contract 21 years ago was signed on the back of a restaurant napkin for want of anything else to seal the deal on.
Stressing no deals had been done, Messi did concede that joining PSG was a “possibility” as the Qatar-owned club consider a move.
PSG has already added veteran Spanish defender Sergio Ramos from Real Madrid, where he won four Champions Leagues and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Messi would also team up with his Argentina colleagues Angel di Maria and Kylian Mbappe; the 22-year-old tipped to succeed him as the best player in the world.
As PSG mull their move, fans and media alike are counting down to what many see as inevitable now that Messi is out of contract.