Lionel Messi was in tears as he confirmed his departure from Barcelona after 21 years with the club.
Messi was set to sign a new deal with Barca, but is now heading for pastures new – with a move to Paris Saint-Germain “possible” – after the Catalan giants could not afford to fulfil the contract they had agreed.
The 34-year-old took to the stage for a news conference on Sunday, in front of the media, his family, Barca team-mates and club officials.
He was emotional before he even made an opening statement.
“These recent days I’ve been giving lots of thought to what I could say, and the truth is that I can’t think of anything,” said Messi, who subsequently let the tears flow as he received a standing ovation.
“This is really difficult for me after so many years, being here my entire life, I’m not ready for this and honestly last year with all the nonsense with the burofax I was convinced I knew what I wanted to say but this year is not the same.”
Last year he asked to leave the club via the Spanish post’s burofax service but changed his mind. This time he came to an agreement to stay but financial stumbling blocks at Barca meant La Liga would not allow the deal.
He is out of contract and will leave for free, with Messi saying a PSG move is now “possible” but that he has no final agreement with anyone at present.
“My family and I were convinced I wanted to stay here, that’s what we all wanted more than anything. We thought we’d be staying here in Barcelona, today I have to say goodbye to all of this,” he said.
“We’ve always made this our home, we’re at home and we thought we’d be staying here in Barcelona.
“I’ve been here so many years, my entire life since I was 13. After 21 years I’m leaving with my wife, my three little Catalan-Argentine kids, and I can’t tell you we won’t come back because this is my home, and I promised my children that.”
Messi wanted to leave Barca in 2020 amid a disagreement with then club president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
However, he insisted he was wholly committed to staying this time around.
“Last year I wanted to leave, but this year I didn’t. I was always completely up front about everything and I have to leave the club I love,” he added.
“This is the most difficult moment of my career. I have been through tough moments, defeats… but the next day you go back to training and you have another chance to avenge yourself. That isn’t going to happen here, it’s the end. Now another chapter starts.”
The coronavirus pandemic also meant Messi played almost the last season-and-a-half of his Barca career without fans in attendance.
Asked if he would return to bid farewell to a full Camp Nou, he replied: “Obviously for these people, I’m available for anything. Honestly, yes.
“I never imagined it this way. I leave this club without seeing the fans for a year and a half. If I’d imagined it I’d imagined it with the Camp Nou full and being able to say goodbye properly,” he said.
Messi won 35 trophies with Barca, but acknowledged he feels the Blaugrana were lacking just one more title.
“I would have liked to have won another Champions League,” he said.
“We got to the semi-final (in 2019) and were knocked out by Liverpool. That’s football. But I don’t regret anything. I tried to give my best, sometimes it works out for the better or worst. I’m of the opinion we could have won more, but I achieved my objectives.”