Lionel Messi, one of association football’s all-time greatest players, pushed through tears yesterday as he announced that his 21-year career with FC Barcelona had come to an end. “La Pulga” (Spanish for “the flea,” as Messi was named for his 5’7″ stature) could no longer be kept by the team due to its crippling debt and resultantly lowered salary cap because of Spanish football’s “financial fair play rules.”
“It still hasn’t sunk in that I’m leaving this club, that my life will be changing completely. It will be a difficult change for me and especially for my family. But we have to accept it and move on,” said the six-time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner at Barcelona’s Camp Nou.
“In these last few days, I was thinking about what I would say today, but to be honest, I couldn’t come up with anything. I was blocked, like I still am right now,” Messi continued. “I was convinced that we would remain with the club, which is our home.”
FC Barcelona revealed the news of Messi’s release two days earlier and removed his profile from the team’s website shortly thereafter, but hearing it from the team’s all-time leading scorer himself made everything final. The club issued a statement reading, “FC Barcelona wholeheartedly expresses its gratitude to the player for his contribution to the aggrandizement of the club and wishes him all the very best for the future in his personal and professional life.”
Messi was reportedly willing to have his salary cut by 50%, or at least leave the team next season for free and enjoy a more ceremonious sendoff. Still, club president Joan Laporta said the 34-year-old no longer fit the team’s financials, so the move had to be made.
With his legacy at FC Barcelona cemented and that chapter closed, Messi already has other teams reportedly fielding his services, such as Paris Saint-Germain, the very solvent Manchester United, or New York FC. Everton’s James Rodriguez did offer one particular scenario certain to thrill soccer fans everywhere if it happens, though. “Messi should go to Juventus and play with [fellow all-time great and rival] Cristiano Ronaldo; it would be a bomb,” he said on Twitch. “It’s the dream of many fans to see those two beasts play together.”
For now, however, Messi wants to let the moment sink in before he makes any hasty moves. He went on social media after yesterday’s press conference to shower his team and fans with gratitude once more.
“I would have liked to leave in a different way, although I suppose that a farewell can never be something nice… I would have loved to continue here, I did everything with that objective, and in the end, it did not happen,” he wrote on his IG. “I only have words of thanks for all those who have accompanied me in so many years at the club. And for our fans, that they gave me all their love and that I tried to give it back to them, also giving everything for this shirt. I’m leaving, but it’s not goodbye, just see you later. Long live Barça !!!”