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Why Lionel Messi decided to stay at Barcelona despite the Camp Nou standoff

FOOTBALL By Waweru Titus | September 5th 2020
Football - The Ballon d’Or awards - Theatre du Chatelet, Paris, France - December 2, 2019. Barcelona's Lionel Messi with his six Ballon d'Or trophies. [REUTERS/Christian Hartmann]

Barcelona and Argentina talisman made headlines once again on Friday after announcing that he would be staying at the Nou Camp despite having decided to leave 10 days ago.

In an exclusive interview with Goal Spain, Messi confirmed the U-turn ahead of the busy 2020/21 season scheduled to kick off on September 12.

The new development means Messi is in line for a 63 million pounds (Sh9 billion) loyalty bonus and will be able to leave without a transfer fee at the end of the season.

Earlier on Friday, his father and agent, Jorge Messi pointed out in a letter to LaLiga that a 700 million euros (Sh90 billion) release clause in the player’s contract was not valid and his son could leave for free.

The Argentine’s decision came after Barcelona failed to win any title last season, which finished with a Bayern Munich 8-2 demolition in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals in Lisbon, Portugal.

An agitated Messi missed Barcelona's first training session of the new season on Monday, days after his shock announcement.

Messi's failure to show up for the session, the first under new Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman, was widely expected after the 33-year-old Argentine also failed to show up for a pre-season medical on Sunday.

Barca fans who waited outside the training ground on Monday were split over Messi's decision, as some saw it as an opportunity for the club to rebuild while others thought otherwise.

Despite the row between the Messi camp, Barcelona and LaLiga, the player ended the impasse and will see out his contract with the club with whom he has won a massive 34 trophies.

Below is Messi’s full interview as posted by Goal on their official YouTube channel revealing why he decided to stay at Barcelona.

(From left) Best FIFA Men's Player of 2019, Argentina and Barcelona forward Lionel Messi, Best FIFA Women's Coach of 2019, USA head coach Jill Ellis, Best FIFA Men's Coach of 2019 Liverpool coach, Germany's Juergen Klopp and Best FIFA Women's Player of 2019, US and Reign FC midfielder Megan Rapinoe pose at the end of The Best FIFA Football Awards ceremony, on September 23, 2019 in Milan. [Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP]

Why did it take you time to break your silence?

"Firstly, because after the defeat in Lisbon it was very hard. We knew Bayern Munich were a very difficult opponent, but not that we were going to end that way, giving such a poor image of the city and the club of Barcelona. We gave a very bad image. It was wrong, I didn't feel like doing anything. I wanted time to pass and then come out to clarify everything."

Why did you tell Barca that you could go?

"I told the club, including the president, that I wanted to go. I've been telling him that all year. I believed it was time to step aside. I believed that the club needed more young players, new players and I thought my time in Barcelona was over. I felt very sorry because I always said that I wanted to finish my career here. It was a very difficult year, I suffered a lot in training, in games and the dressing room.

“Everything became very difficult for me and there came a time when I considered looking for new ambitions. It did not come because of the Champions League result against Bayern, no – I had been thinking about the decision for a long time. I told the president and, well, the president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I wanted to go or if I wanted to stay and in the end, he did not keep his word."

Have you ever felt lonely?

"No… I didn't feel alone. Not alone. Some have always been by my side. That is enough for me and strengthens me. But I did feel hurt by things that I heard from people, from journalists, from people questioning my commitment to Barcelona and saying things that I think I didn't deserve. It also helped me to see the truth in people.

“This world of football is very difficult and there are many false people. This happening has helped me to recognise many false people. It hurt me when my love for this club was questioned. No matter how much I go or stay, my love for Barca will never change."

Everything has been spoken of. The money factor, your friends. What has hurt the most after 20 years defending the Barca shirt?

"A bit of everything, my friends, money… many things that have been said have hurt. I always put the club before anything else. I had the possibility of leaving Barca many times. The money? Every year I could have left and earned more money than at Barcelona. I always said that this was my home and it was what I felt and feel. To decide there was somewhere better than here was difficult. I felt that I needed a change and new goals, new things."

In the end, it is very difficult to give up 20 years, a whole life, a family that is in Barcelona, ??a city, and that is what weighs more when making a decision. Because I understand that in the end, you will stay in Barcelona. You are still at Barcelona...

"Of course, I had a hard time deciding. It does not come from the Bayern result, it comes from many things. I always said I wanted to end here and I always said I wanted to stay here. That I wanted a winning project and to win titles with the club, to continue expanding the legend of Barcelona at the top level. And the truth is that there has been no project or anything for a long time, they juggle and cover holes as things go by. As I said before, I always thought about the welfare of my family and the club."

What happened when you told your family that you can leave Barcelona?

"When I communicated my wish to leave to my wife and children, it was a brutal drama. The whole family began crying, my children did not want to leave Barcelona, ??nor did they want to change schools. I looked further afield and I want to compete at the highest level, win titles, compete in the Champions League. You can win or lose in it, because it is very difficult, but you have to compete. At least compete in it and let us not fall apart in Rome, Liverpool, Lisbon. All that led me to think about the decision that I wanted to carry out. As I said, I thought and was sure that I was free to leave, the president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I stayed or not.

“Now they cling to the fact that I did not say it before June 10, when it turns out that on June 10 we were competing for La Liga in the middle of this awful coronavirus and this disease altered the whole season. And this is the reason why I am going to continue in the club. Now I am going to continue in the club because the president told me that the only way to leave was to pay the €700million clause and that this is impossible.

“There was another way and it was to go to trial. I would never go to court against Barca because it is the club that I love, which gave me everything since I arrived, it is the club of my life, I have made my life here. Barca gave me everything and I gave it everything. I know that it never crossed my mind to take Barca to court."

Is that what has hurt you the most, that there are people who think you could have hurt Barca? You have been defending the club for years. Has it hurt you that they doubt your commitment?

"It has hurt me a lot that things are published against me and, above all, that false things are published. Or that they came to think that I could go to trial against Barca to benefit myself. I would never do such a thing. I repeat, I wanted to go and it was entirely my right because the contract said that I could be released. And it is not 'I'm leaving and that's it'. I was leaving and it cost me a lot. I wanted to go because I thought about living my last years of football happily. Lately, I have not found happiness within the club. "

That is vital, to be happy. You are a born winner. You are in a team that fights for titles and in recent seasons Barca has not competed in Europe. You are going to continue leading the team at Barca. But something will have to change at Barca, right? Something will have to change at the sporting level, right?

"I will continue at Barca and my attitude will not change no matter how much I have wanted to go. I will do my best. I always want to win, I'm competitive and I don't like to lose anything. I always want the best for the club, for the dressing room and myself.

“I said it at the time that we were not given the support to win the Champions League. Now I don't know what will happen. There is a new coach and new ideas. That's good, but then we have to see how the team responds and whether or not it will make us compete at the top level. What I can say is that I'm staying and I'm going to give my best for Barcelona."

Jorge Messi, father and agent of football player Lionel Messi, arrives at Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat airport for a meeting with Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu, in Barcelona, Spain September 2, 2020. [REUTERS/Nacho Doce]

What was the first thing you thought when people were saying you could leave and that you didn't care about Barcelona? What was the first thing you thought? A feeling of rage?

"I felt a lot of pain that my commitment to Barcelona was doubted, with how grateful I am to this club. I love Barcelona and I'm not going to find a better place than here anywhere. Still, I have the right to decide. I was going to look for new goals and new challenges. And tomorrow I could go back because here in Barcelona I have everything. My sons, my family, they grew up here and are from here. There was nothing wrong with wanting to leave. I needed it, the club needed it and it was good for everyone."

Family is something very important in your life. Your father has had a bad time, your wife too, your children. What have they asked of you? What did they tell you? They must have told you 'dad, this', 'dad, that'. Did they watch the news on TV and ask you anything?

"All this time it has been hard for everyone. I was clear about what I wanted, I have said what I felt I wanted. My wife, with all the pain of her soul, supported and accompanied me."

But the important member of the family is Mateo?

"Yes, Mateo is still little and he doesn't realise what it means to go somewhere else and make your life a few years elsewhere. Thiago yes, he is older. He heard something on TV and found out something and asked. I didn't want him to know anything about being forced to leave, to have to live in a new school or make new friends. He cried to me and said, 'let's not go', I repeat that it was hard. It was understandable. It happened to me. It is very difficult to make a decision."

Argentina's Lionel Messi waits to receive the second place medal during the Copa America Centenario awards ceremony in East Rutherford, New Jersey, United States, on June 26, 2016. [AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm]

And to anyone. Of course, it's 20 years, that's a lifetime. You came to Barcelona at the age of your children now. That gets harder. There are two fundamental things that people would like to know... You stay at Barca, you lead the team again. An optimistic message for Barca fans for the future?

"As usual, I am going to give my best, I will do my best to fight for all the objectives and hopefully I can dedicate myself to the people who have had a bad time. I had a bad time this year, but it is hypocritical to say that if you compare it with people who have had a bad time with the coronavirus, with people who have lost relatives and who have lost many things. Hopefully, I can give my best and dedicate victories to all those people who accompany us and their families, to be able to dedicate the best to those people who are having a bad time and that we can overcome once and for all we can overcome this virus and return to normality."

The famous burofax. There has been a lot of talk about Messi being badly advised and badly advised regarding the decision to communicate that you wanted to leave by burofax. Why did you decide to send that burofax? What did you want to demonstrate? What was your position?

"The burofax was to make it official in some way. Throughout the year I had been telling the president that I wanted to leave, that the time had come to seek new goals and new directions in my career. He told me all the time: 'We'll talk, not now,' this and that, but nothing [happened]. The president did not give me a clue at what he was saying.

“Sending the burofax was making it official that I wanted to go and that I was free and the optional year – I was not going to use it and I wanted to go. It was not to make a mess or to go against the club, but the way to make it official because my decision had been made."

So, if you hadn't sent the burofax, maybe everything would have been forgotten and no one would have listened to you?

"Clearly. If I didn't send the burofax, it's like nothing happened, I have the optional year I had to have continued all year. What they say is that I did not say it [that he wanted to leave] before June 10 [when the clause expired] – but I repeat, we were in the middle of all the competitions and it was not the [right] moment.

“But apart from that, the president always told me, 'when the season is over, you decide if you stay or leave', he never set a date, and well, it was simply to make the club know that he was not [sticking to his word], but not to get into a fight because I did not want to fight with the club."

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi (left) duels for the ball against Valencia's Nicolas Otamendi (now at Machester City) during a Spanish La Liga soccer match at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, April 18, 2015. [AP Photo/Manu Fernandez]
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