In a clear sign to leave Barcelona, Lionel Messi skips required coronavirus testing scheduled for the whole squad on Sunday.
Barcelona said Messi was the only player who did not undergo the tests at the club’s training centre. The team is set to resume training on Monday ahead of the upcoming start of the season.
The club also reiterated its stance not to negotiate Messi’s early release, saying president Josep Bartomeu will only sit down with the player if it is to extend his contract beyond next season.
Messi last week expressed his desire to leave the club, but Barcelona wants him to play out the contract that ends in June 2021. The club also said it is not negotiating a possible transfer with any other team.
Messi announced his decision to leave on Tuesday by sending the club a burofax, a certified document similar to a telegram. He invoked a contract clause that allowed him to leave at the end of the season for free, but the club claims that the clause had already expired. A legal battle is expected to unfold as Messi will contend that the season was extended beyond the date the clause expired because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Argentina great reportedly said he wanted to negotiate with the club, but Barcelona said Saturday it was not willing to facilitate his exit. The club said it would like for Messi to finish his career with the Catalan club.
Barcelona will resume training with incoming coach Ronald Koeman in charge after Quique Setien was fired following the team’s 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals of the Champions League on Aug. 14. The defeat, one of the worst in Messi’s career and in the club’s history, prompted Barcelona to announce “profound” changes to the first-team and a “wide-ranging” restructuring of the club.
The 33-year-old Messi had been outspoken about the club’s poor decisions this season, its first without a trophy since 2007-08.