Lionel Messi revealed Friday he will stay at Barcelona, insisting he could never go to court against "the club of his life." But the Albiceleste captain did confirm he wanted to leave the side as he launched a stinging attack on Club President Josep Maria Bartomeu.
The 33-year-old magician accused the official of going back on an agreement to let him leave for free at the end of last season.
"The president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I wanted to go or if I wanted to stay and in the end he didn't end up keeping his word," Messi said in an exclusive interview with Goal journalist Rubén Uría, released on Friday.
The Rosario-born superstar said he wanted “to seek a new direction” in his career but would not “get into a legal dispute with the club.”
Messi said he believed he had a clause in his contract that allowed him to leave for free at the end of the season but Barcelona said that option expired on June 10.
"I thought and we were sure that I was free," he said. "The president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I stayed or not. And now they hold on to the fact that I did not say it before June 10, when it turns out that on June 10 we were competing for the league in the middle of this shitty virus and this disease that altered all the dates."
Messi added: "And this is the reason why I am going to continue in the club... because the president told me that the only way to leave was to pay the 700-million-euro (US$837 million) release clause.”
The Argentine said his love for the club was too great to commit to a long legal saga.
"This is impossible, and then the other way was to go to trial. I would never go to court against Barça because it is the club that I love, that gave me everything since I arrived, it is the club of my life, I have made my life here," he said.
Messi requested to leave the club he joined as a boy after Barcelona's humiliating 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League, with Manchester City emerging as the favourites to sign him.
His lawyers sent Barca a burofax, a certified document similar to a telegram, on August 25 stating his intention to depart but Messi says he made his feelings clear to Bartomeu long before.
“I told the club, especially the president, that I wanted to go," said Messi. "I've been telling him all year. I believed it was time to step aside.
"I believed that the club needed more young people, new people and I thought my time in Barcelona was over, feeling very sorry because I always said that I wanted to finish my career here.”
"It was a very difficult year, I suffered a lot in training, in games and in the dressing room. Everything became very difficult for me and there came a time when I considered looking for new goals, new horizons.
"It wasn't because of the Champions League result against Bayern, I had been thinking about it for a long time. I told the president and the president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I wanted to go or if I wanted to stay and in the end he did not end up keeping his word," he said.
Barcelona ended the season without a trophy for the first time since 2008, which also extended Messi's unsuccessful run in the Champions League to five years.
He has scored 634 goals and won 34 titles with the club that he joined as a 13-year-old and where he came through the ranks at La Masia.
Messi said his decision to leave left his wife and three sons distraught. “When I communicated my wish to leave to my wife and children, it was a brutal drama,” he said. "The whole family began crying, my children did not want to leave Barcelona, nor did they want to change schools.”
‘I will do my best’
Despite his unhappiness at having to stay, the Argentine insists he will give his all for the team next season under new coach Ronald Koeman, with his contract due to expire in June next year.
“I am going to continue at Barça and my attitude is not going to change, no matter how much I have wanted to go," Messi said. "I will do my best. I always want to win, I am competitive and I don't like to lose ever."
The superstar forward was absent from pre-season training last week as he continued to try to force a move.
“I said before we couldn't win the Champions League. Now I don't know what will happen," he added. "There is a new coach and a new idea. That's good, but then we have to see how the team responds and if it means we can compete or not. What I can say is that I'm staying and I'm going to give my best."
It remains to be seen whether Bartomeu stays on as president, with his position seemingly untenable after such a heavy rebuke from the club's greatest ever player. The club official reportedly offered to resign if Messi publicly said he was the problem and agreed to stay.
There had been no agreement when Messi’s father and Bartomeu met on Wednesday to discuss the player’s future, with Jorge Messi saying his son wanted to leave and Barcelona saying it would not facilitate his transfer.
"It has been a long time since there has been a project or anything at all," Messi said of the leadership at the club. "They are always juggling and plugging gaps."