An emotional Lionel Messi said joining Paris St-Germain was “a possibility, but nothing was agreed” as he confirmed his exit from Barcelona.
The record six-time Ballon d’Or winner, 34, is now a free agent.
“My family and I were convinced that we were going to stay here at home,” he told a press conference on Sunday.
“It’s the end with this club and now a new story will begin,” added the Argentina striker. “Yes, this is one of the hardest times for me.
“I don’t want to leave this club – it’s a club I love and it’s a time I wasn’t expecting.” Last year I wanted to leave, this year I wanted to stay. This is why I am so sad.
“It was like my blood was running cold. I was really sad. It was really difficult until now. I’m still trying to process everything.
“When I get home, I’ll still feel bad; it will be even worse. I’m not ready for this.”
What else did Messi say?
Messi, Barcelona’s top scorer, submitted a transfer request last summer before agreeing to stay for the last year of his contract.
This expired on July 1 and Messi is now in talks on a transfer to PSG, where he would play alongside Kylian Mbappe and former Barca teammate Neymar.
“It’s a possibility, but I haven’t agreed anything with anyone,” he said. “I have interested different clubs. Nothing is definitive but we speak to them clearly.”
Messi left Argentina for Spain at the age of 13 and made his first-team debut for Barcelona at the age of 17 in October 2004.
He went on to score 672 goals in 778 games and help the Spanish giants win 34 trophies, replicas of which were displayed during his press conference at Camp Nou.
“I am so grateful for the love everyone has shown me, all my teammates and the club to be by my side,” he said. “Today I have to say goodbye to all of this.
“I arrived very young, 13 years old, and after 21 years, I am leaving with my wife and my three Catalan-Argentinian children.
“I cannot be prouder of all that I have done and lived in this city. I have no doubt that after a few years away we will come back because this is our home.”
Messi added: “I have been leaving the club without seeing the fans for over a year and a half. [due to the pandemic]. If I imagined it, I would imagine Camp Nou full, and to say goodbye to it properly. But it must be so. “
Why is Messi leaving Barcelona?
Messi appeared ready to extend his stay at Camp Nou after having entered into a new five-year contract in July, by halving the £ 123million per season he reportedly received in his previous contract.
The deal, however, depended on players leaving for Barca’s payroll to fall below the La Liga limit, and the club were unable to do so.
“I offered to cut my salary by 50% and they didn’t ask me anything else,” Messi said. “It is not true that they asked me for anything else.
“I only know that it was not possible because of La Liga, because the club did not want to go into more debt.”
Barcelona president Joan Laporta said on Friday that trying to keep Messi could have put the club in danger for 50 years.
Once it became clear that Barca were unable to honor the contract they had made with Messi, their representatives contacted PSG, but regardless of where Messi goes next, he said he wanted to “play my last years competing for titles”.
He also had a warning for former Barca teammate Dani Alves after 38-year-old right-back helped Brazil win Olympic gold extend his career title record to 43.
“I congratulate Dani Alves and warn him that I will fight to catch up and pass him,” Messi added. “It’s my mentality. I have to find my way to keep competing and winning.”
“Imagining the club without you is difficult”
Hundreds of fans gathered outside Camp Nou and several of Barcelona’s first team players were also in attendance.
Messi was in tears as he took the stage and received a round of applause before, during and after his press conference.
Andres Iniesta, who has won the Champions League four times with Messi, tweeted: “We shared magical moments and always stayed together. Imagining the club without you or being able to see you at Camp Nou in another shirt is difficult.”
Xavi hernandez, another member of this legendary Barca midfielder, added: “I can only thank you for everything you have given us over these years. Whatever you do, I wish you the best.”
Current Barça captain Gerard pique said: “Nothing will ever be the same. Neither Camp Nou, nor the city of Barcelona, nor ourselves. The reality, sometimes, is very harsh.”
Chronology of Lionel Messi’s transfers
25 Aug 2020 – Messi sends a fax to the club saying he wishes exercise a clause in his contract, allowing him to leave for free with immediate effect.
September 4, 2020 – Messi says he’s staying at Barcelona as it is “impossible” for a team to pay their € 700million (£ 624million) release clause, which the club say should be honored.
October 27, 2020 – Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who fell out with Messi over his failed transfer request, resigns.
December 28, 2020 – Messi says he hopes play one day in the United States, but is unsure of his future at the end of his contract.
January 31, 2021 – Barcelona say they will take “appropriate legal action” against Spanish newspaper El Mundo after this published details of Messi’s contract, worth £ 492 million over four years.
May 16, 2021 – Manager Ronald Koeman says he hopes Messi did not play his last home game for the club after a 2-1 defeat by Celta Vigo ended their title hopes and meant they finished outside the top two for the first time since 2007-08.
May 22, 2021 – Paris St-Germain would be “Take a close look” at Messi’s contract situation.
May 28, 2021 – Barcelona president Joan Laporta says new contract for Lionel Messi is “not finished yet” but that “things are going well”.
July 1, 2021 – Messi’s contract at Barcelona expires and he becomes a free agent.
July 15, 2021 – Messi agrees to stay with Barça on an agreement until 2026 which includes the reduction of his salary.
August 5, 2021 – Barcelona announce that Messi will leave the club “due to financial and structural obstacles”.