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Lionel Messi to leave FC Barcelona due to 'economic and structural obstacles'

FC Barcelona forward Lionel Messi has been a free agent since his previous contract expired in late June. File Photo by Alejandro Garcia/EPA-EFE
FC Barcelona forward Lionel Messi has been a free agent since his previous contract expired in late June. File Photo by Alejandro Garcia/EPA-EFE

Aug. 5 (UPI) -- Spanish soccer club FC Barcelona announced Thursday that star forward Lionel Messi won't return to the team after financial problems prevented the sides from finalizing a new contract.

The 34-year-old Messi has been a free agent since his previous contract expired June 30, but it was reported in July that Messi and Barcelona tentatively agreed on a five-year extension.

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Barcelona, however, has been unable to register Messi's new pact with La Liga while complying with the Spanish soccer league's financial fair play rules. Determined by La Liga, Spanish clubs must abide by a certain spending limit, which includes money spent on salaries and signings.

"Despite having reached an agreement with Messi and with both parties clearly wanting to sign a new contract, it cannot be finalized due to financial and structural obstacles," Barcelona said in a news release. "Given this situation, Messi will not continue his relationship with Barcelona.

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"Both parties lament deeply that the desires of the player and the club cannot be met. Barca would like to wholeheartedly thank the player for his contribution to the growth of the institution and wish him the best in his personal and professional life."

Barcelona's spending limit dropped from more than $700 million to about $410 million since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Catalan club's salary cap is expected to decrease again for the 2021-22 season.

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Due to that reduction, Barcelona needed to shrink their wage bill or bring in a significant amount of money in transfers to register Messi's new contract with La Liga. The club, however, has failed to do so.

Messi initially tried to leave Barcelona last summer after a disagreement with team president Josep Maria Bartomeu, but the six-time Ballon d'Or winner ended up staying with the club against his will. Messi believed a clause in his contract allowed him to leave the club for free, but Barcelona said that wasn't the case.

Facing a possible legal battle over the dispute, Messi backed down and remained in Barcelona.

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Messi joined Barcelona's youth program in 2000. He started his senior career with Barcelona's first team in 2004, going on to play 778 games for the club.

Considered one of the greatest players ever, Messi has scored a club-record 672 goals and has helped Barcelona capture 10 La Liga titles and four Champions League trophies.

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