Legendary Barcelona forward Lionel Messi has asked to leave this summer.

The Argentina international, 33, sent a fax to the club on Tuesday saying he wishes to exercise a clause in his contract, allowing him to leave for free with immediate effect.

Barca were beaten 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals on 16 August.

The six-time Ballon d’Or winner made his debut for Barca in 2004 and has won the Champions League four times.

Barcelona, though, believe the clause has now expired and Messi is contracted to the club until 2021 with a 700m euro buy-out clause.

The board will meet soon and some consider the only thing that could placate Messi is the resignation of the president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, and early elections. But Messi seems determined to leave the club no matter what.

After the news broke, Barca fans gathered outside the Nou Camp to protest against the board and in support of the club’s record goalscorer.

A legal battle is now set to follow between the club and the player. Messi had a clause in his contract which allowed him to leave for free, if he informed the club of his desire before 10 June.

That date has now passed so Barca believe the clause has expired, but Messi and his team feel it should be extended to cover the prolonged season – which ran until August due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Respect and admiration, Leo. All my support, friend,” Messi’s former team-mate Carles Puyol tweeted, to which current team-mate Luis Suarez replied with two clapping emojis.

Analysis – ‘Even if Barca demand one of the biggest ever transfer fees, Messi wants out’

Barcelona have said the clause ran out on 10 June and they are convinced, legally, they could win any challenge to it. Of course, the fact the season was prolonged gives Messi the right to think that he is able to apply that clause, but lawyers have told the club he will not win that dispute.

The fax sent is a well-thought of step by Leo, who, having spoken to his family and lawyers, is desperate to leave the club. The way he thinks about it today is clear: this is not a battle for more power. He wants to leave. That is it.

Even if nothing is agreed with another club right now, even if eventually Barcelona insist he has a 700m euro buy-out clause and will demand one of the biggest transfer fees in history despite having a year left on his contract, he doesn’t care – he wants out.

There are a lot of reasons why this has happened and I have written about it extensively. Things that have happened in the past few days seem to have made him go the extra mile, if you like. After a meeting with [new coach] Ronald Koeman, they had a private conversation, which neither Messi nor Koeman leaked to the press.

I am convinced it was the intention of the club at the highest level to leak part of the story, especially the bit in which he was admitting to Koeman that he felt closer to leaving than staying. That extract would help turn the fans against Messi so they can eventually release him and use that money (his salary is over 50m euros net – double if taxes are counted) to renew the squad.

If you believe he is the most important player, then you build a team around him, which is what Koeman wants to do. You don’t start a campaign to get rid of him. Also the fact that Luis Suarez was told in a phone chat with Koeman that lasted two minutes that he was not wanted might have confirmed the impression Messi had that this board does things in a very disrespectful way.

People say he has a lot of power in the club. He talks directly to the board if he gets asked, as all the top players do in big clubs. Let’s see what he has recommended in recent times: the return of Neymar, which didn’t happen; the continuation of [coach] Ernesto Valverde, which didn’t happen; there was no need to sign Antoine Griezmann, which didn’t happen – so I’m not sure he holds that much power.

This is not just taking the toys out of the pram. It’s a situation where he is not happy any more playing for this Barcelona that requires deep surgery to win the big trophies again. He wants to see the reaction of Barcelona next, but it is likely that he will not attend training. He might not do the pre-season medical tests. If that happens, the club will send a fax to Leo about not respecting his contract and the legal battle would start – and that can go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport eventually.

Leo Messi wants to leave right now no matter what. But can he? As the contract says that the clause should have been activated by 10 June, the club is convinced they are in control. But do they want to keep a player that does not want to be there? Clubs like Paris St-Germain and Manchester City insist they have not made any move towards getting Messi. But clearly nobody knows the real financial implications of that move, so it is a logical reaction. Two other clubs have made lots of movements in the past to try to convince Messi to join them – Inter Milan and Chelsea.

The only pressure possible against the board comes from social media – if that forces the resignation of Bartomeu, then we may enter a different phase. The impression we have is that the club will probably ask him to stay on but he might be forced to negotiate for a huge transfer fee.

In the past, Manchester City came close to signing Messi (around 2016 when he felt persecuted by the Spanish government and tax men) and there were other moments when negotiations or at least conversations took place with other clubs (earlier on, even Real Madrid showed interest). But this time it seems there is nobody at the club with enough authority, charisma and, in some cases, honest interest in keeping him.

So we will see if Barcelona really decide to ask for an impossible fee or who is willing to pay a transfer fee which, despite having one year left on his contract, Barcelona will demand to be close to Neymar’s when he went to Paris St-Germain (222m euros). This saga will go on and on.

Messi the record breaker

Messi joined Barcelona aged 13 from Argentina’s Newell’s Old Boys in 2000, and has since scored a club record 634 goals in 731 appearances. He has won 34 major trophies with the club, including 10 La Liga titles and four Champions League trophies. Here are some more records he holds:

  • Most goals scored in La Liga (444)
  • Most Ballons d’Or in history and most Fifa World Player of the Year/Best Fifa Men’s Player Awards (6)
  • Top goalscorer in all club competitions in a calendar year: 79 goals in 2012
  • Only player to score more than 40 goals in 10 consecutive seasons
  • Most goals scored for a single club in the Champions League (115)