BARCELONA – Barcelona fans breathed a collective sigh of relief a day after Lionel Messi said he would wait a year in his desire to seek success elsewhere.
Argentine great Messi announced Friday that, despite having told the club he wanted to leave, he would see out the last season on his contract. The 33-year-old forward said he would stay because he wanted to avoid the ugly possibility of going to court to seek his release.
“He’s Staying” was splashed over a huge photo of Messi on the front page of Barcelona’s daily Sport on Saturday.
“As a Barça supporter I celebrate the news,” 72-year-old retiree Roberto Ciervo said. “They managed to avoid a bitter end. Something nobody, including himself, wanted after his career in Barça."
While fans are divided over whether to blame the player or club executives for the pending separation, Messi’s immaculate reputation in the Spanish city has undoubtedly taken a knock.
Some fans, like Ciervo, said they understand Messi’s decision to leave after the team’s failures in the Champions League in recent seasons, which reached their low point after a stunning 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals last month. Under club president Josep Bartomeu, top signings in recent seasons — Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann — have been a letdown.
Messi said in an interview with Goal.com that “throughout the year I had been telling the president that I wanted to leave, that the time had come to seek new goals and new directions in my career.”
Although he had voiced criticism of the team’s inability to compete at the top level during the season, he saved the bombshell he wanted to leave until after the Champions League debacle. And his way of telling Barcelona — and his fans — could not have been colder: sending a burofax, a certified document in Spain similar to a telegram, to the club’s office.