Lionel Messi missed a coronavirus test at Barcelona’s training ground on Sunday morning, club sources confirmed to AFP, raising the possibility that he is now boycotting the preseason to force a transfer.
But La Liga has given Barça hopes of keeping Messi a boost by announcing that the release clause in his contract, set at 700 million euros ($ 833 million), still applies.
Messi and his lawyers believe a separate clause means he should be allowed to leave for free this summer.
Without passing a coronavirus test, Messi will not be able to join his teammates for Ronald Koeman’s first training session on Monday, with the start of the new La Liga season less than two weeks away.
Messi was supposed to carry out the tests at 10.15 in the morning on Sunday, but according to Barcelona sources, he did not show up at the Ciutat Esportiva.
The club’s captain and the best player in history could now face a fine and even a salary reduction if the strike continues.
– Suárez, present Vidal –
Luis Suárez, his best friend and attacking partner, and Arturo Vidal were among those who arrived for tryouts, despite both players being told they should find new equipment as part of a planned cleanup this summer.
The meeting was an opportunity for Messi to make his first public appearance since the burofax stating his intention to leave arrived at the Camp Nou offices on Tuesday night.
Instead, its absence offers a clear indication of your determination to secure a move and how unpleasant this dispute could become.
Participating in the team’s preseason program could harm your legal case if your departure is resolved in court.
Barcelona insists that a clause included in Messi’s contract that allowed him to leave for free this summer had to be activated before June 10 and the only way the 33-year-old will be allowed to leave now is by paying 700 millions of euros.
La Liga, which was always in favor of the club, agrees that Messi’s termination clause is still valid.
“The contract is currently in force and has a ‘termination clause’ applicable if Lionel Andrés Messi decides to activate the early unilateral termination of the contract,” La Liga said in a statement.
“In compliance with the regulations and procedure in these cases, La Liga will not remove the player from the (Spanish football) federation unless he has previously paid the amount of said clause.”
However, Messi’s lawyers believe that the clause allowing him to leave for free does not refer to a specific date but to 10 days after the end of the season.
Given that last season was extended until August due to the pandemic, with the Champions League final played only last weekend, they argue that Messi’s request to leave came within the agreed deadline.
His absence on Sunday suggests he is prepared to do whatever it takes to leave the club he joined when he was 13, and where most expected him to continue until retirement.
– Followers are still waiting –
Fans, some of whom stormed the Camp Nou in protest last week, are hopeful that Messi can still be persuaded.
Outside the training ground Sunday morning, a boy in a Messi jersey sat with his head in his hands, hoping his hero could return.
Mundo Deportivo, the Barcelona daily with close ties to the board, wrote on Saturday how the club is defiant, even if each stance now could be a negotiating tactic.
“The more the days go by, the more firm the board and the president Josep Maria Bartomeu are in not moving from his post,” it reads. “What is not to sell and, if possible, renew Messi’s contract.”
Bartomeu made it known through the Spanish press on Thursday that he would resign if Messi said publicly that he was the problem and agreed to change his mind.
But Messi has remained firm. His rebuff on Sunday comes after he asked for a meeting, not to negotiate, but to begin facilitating a friendly and dignified departure.
Manchester City remain the favorites to sign the 33-year-old, whose base salary alone stands at around € 60 million.
If Barcelona and Messi decide to avoid a lengthy legal process, a compromise sale price of around 100 million euros could be within reach of City, while eliminating less wealthy rivals.
Messi has reportedly already spoken with City manager Pep Guardiola, but others are still in the race, including Paris Saint-Germain, Inter Milan and Juventus.