Messi Absent As Barcelona Team Undergoes COVID-19 Tests Ahead Of Training

The Spanish league has insisted that Lionel Messi remains under contract at Barcelona, just hours after he failed to turn up for a pre-season medical at the club. Manchester City have spoken to the Argentinian and hope to be able to find a way to sign him but La Liga announced on Sunday that they will not cooperate with any attempt to register him for another club unless his €700m (£625m) buyout clause is paid.

Having officially informed Barça of his intention to leave on Tuesday, Messi is attempting to exercise a clause in the contract he signed in 2017 that allows him to depart for free at the end of each season. Barcelona, though, immediately replied with a formal letter of their own insisting that the clause had already expired and that he could no longer walk away for free.

According to Barcelona, Messi had to tell them of his intention to leave by 10 June, while Messi’s representatives are arguing that the extended nature of the 2019-2020 season means that the cut-off date should be put back. Barcelona informed Messi that they wish him to continue and that in order to leave he would have to pay his €700m buy-out clause.

Reports on Cadena SER radio late on Saturday night suggested another way out when they claimed that the 33-year-old’s €700m release clause no longer applies in the final year of his contract. That would potentially lessen the economic risk of signing him against Barcelona’s wishes and pending arbitration. But a statement from the Spanish league’s governing body on Sunday denied that is the case. There was no formal statement from the club itself, only the league. Nor has there been any public explanation from Messi or his camp.

“The contract is currently valid and has a ‘release clause’ which would apply in the event of Lionel Andrés Messi deciding to unilaterally rescind that contract early,” the statement said.

“In compliance with the applicable rule … La Liga will not process the approval needed prior to a request to be deregistered as a player with the Spanish football federation, unless the amount in the release clause has been paid.”

Messi’s camp argue that he can unilaterally depart, per the terms of his current contract, which has only one more year left to run in any case. In the spring he had halted all discussions over a new contract renewal of the current deal which expires on 30 June, 2021. A legal battle may yet unfold, as the two sides reach a stalemate that suits no one. Messi had sought a negotiated settlement over the weekend but Barcelona currently insist that there is nothing to negotiate, unless he wishes to discuss a new deal.

Messi’s decision not to turn up at the club’s training ground on Sunday morning is consistent with his legal argument that he has already communicated his decision to leave, and is thus in effect out of contract now. As expected, he failed to show for coronavirus testing at Barcelona’s training complex having informed the club in advance via Burofax. The squad was due to begin arriving from 10.15 but, with cameras awaiting outside, he was not among them. By not attending, he will not be able to take part in the first session under the new coach, Ronald Koeman, on Monday.

Barcelona’s sporting director, Ramon Planes, said last week that the La Liga giants will “count on Messi for the future” despite the apparent wish of the player to leave a club he has been associated with since the age of 13.

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