Soccer icon Messi confirms Barcelona's bitter departure in tearful farewell

Soccer icon Lionel Messi fought back tears Sunday as he painfully bid farewell to FC Barcelona.

"I'm not ready for this," the 34-year-old said during a press conference at the club's stadium, Camp Nou, a setting where he spent the last 17 seasons polishing a legacy like that of the club and perhaps that of the sport. , the best player of all time.

"I gave everything for this club from the first day I arrived to the last," he told reporters at a hastily organized event for which neither Messi nor the world of sport seemed prepared. "I never imagined having to say goodbye."

Barcelona announced that it would not renew the Argentine forward's contract on Thursday, with the Catalan giants' dire financial situation and strict Spanish league rules preventing him from staying despite the wishes of both parties.

"Despite the club and player reaching an agreement and their clear intention to sign a new contract today, this cannot happen due to financial and structural obstacles," the club said in a short statement.

The move left the soccer world reeling, and its most heralded star was forced to leave the only home it has ever known.

Messi said he did "everything possible" to stay.

But the focus now shifts to its next move, with French giants Paris Saint-Germain, owned by state-owned Qatar Sports Investment and therefore rarely cashless, widely viewed as the pioneers of their firm.

Messi did not say what his immediate plans were, but said that joining PSG was a "possibility". He added that he received many phone calls from various clubs and has yet to sign anything.

Despite his advanced age, Messi remains a highly productive player in one of the world's most elite leagues, scoring 30 goals in 30 games last season.

He has helped lead the team to 10 La Liga titles and won Europe's most prestigious competition, the Champions League, four times. Messi also won the men's Ballon d'Or, the award honoring the best soccer player in the world, a record six times.

He is going as Barcelona's all-time top scorer with 672 goals and is also the top scorer in the Spanish league with 474 goals in 520 games.

"As long as I remain competitive and as long as my body responds (I will continue to play)," he said at the press conference on Sunday.

Messi wiped the tears from his face as he stood on the podium, with his wife and three children watching from the front row of the audience.

He received huge applause and a standing ovation, and many of his teammates gathered to see the occasion.

Messi's departure comes at a time when athletes have become more empowered to make career decisions, and leagues, including the NBA, see players determined and capable of designing their own futures.

But having been unable to leave Barcelona last year, unhappy with the club's leadership after a series of questionable moves on and off the pitch, Messi must now go against his wishes.

He seemed willing to stay in Barcelona, ​​and Spanish media reported that the two parties had agreed to a new five-year deal that entailed a 50 percent pay cut.

But the club, whose debts total more than $ 1 billion, apparently couldn't make the deal work within the framework of the Spanish league's fair play financial regulations.

"It was as if my blood ran cold," Messi said of the moment he was told he would have to leave Barcelona 21 years after joining for the first time from Argentina as a child. "It was very sad, very difficult," he added.

"I tried to behave with humility and respect and I hope that is what remains of me when I leave the club."

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