In a shocking Thursday press release, FC Barcelona announced Lionel Messi, its club's all-time leading scorer and six-time Balon d'Or winner, is set to move on from the club he's been at since 2000.
After ESPN was among the outlets to report Messi had reached an agreement on a new five-year deal in July with a significant wage cut to stay at the Catalan club he joined at age 12. Not even a $3.2 billion cash injection from La Liga could help Barcelona's financial problems.
While Barcelona attributed the financial structural problems down to not meeting Spanish Liga regulations in the press release, the words have a certain finality to them that makes the news all the more shocking.
"As a result of this situation, Messi shall not be staying on at FC Barcelona. Both parties deeply regret that the wishes of the player and the club will ultimately not be fulfilled," Barcelona's statement reads.
"FC Barcelona wholeheartedly expresses its gratitude to the player for his contribution to the aggrandisement of the club and wishes him all the very best for the future in his personal and professional life."
Following a successful summer in which Messi, 34, finally tasted international success with Argentina's Copa America triumph, things were looking all patched up between him and Barcelona since his transfer request last summer. After all, Messi had been very publicly in favor of their presidency change back to Joan Laporta after last summer's falling out with the club. He returned then. He will not now. Instead, Messi will move onto what'll be a frenzy of teams seeking his services as a free agent.
Messi finished his Barcelona career as the club's record goal scorer with 672 (440 more than the club's next highest scorer), most titles with 35, most appearances with 778 (nine more than Xavi), and produced the most assists in soccer recorded history (315).
With Messi now free to negotiate and begin this path in unchartered waters with a new club, it's important to note he has stated his desire to possibly play in Major League Soccer someday.
“I would like to play in the United States someday, it’s always been one of my dreams... but I don't know if it will happen!” Messi reportedly told La Sexta in December.
Reports out of another Spanish outlet outlined that Messi's contract negotiations with Barcelona included a couple MLS destinations in Inter Miami and New York City FC. The reports said Messi would play two more seasons in Barcelona, two with Miami or NYCFC, and then the last six years would be a yet to be defined off field role.
On the transfer deadline day in MLS, these rumors are likely pure transfer speculation, especially since Messi's reported $73 million a year potential contract with Miami would be 10 times higher than Zlatan Ibramhimovic's then-MLS record $7.2 million deal in 2019. Still, it's still fun to imagine the possibilities.