Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino insisted his players were not distracted by Lionel Messi rumours ahead of Saturday's hard-fought 2-1 win over Troyes.

PSG commenced their Ligue 1 campaign with the come-from-behind victory after goals from new signing Achraf Hakimi and Mauro Icardi.

The Parisians have been heavily linked with Lionel Messi in recent days after Barcelona confirmed his departure but Pochettino insisted that had no impact on his team's display.

"No, I don't think so, the players and the team have been focused," Pochettino said at the post-game news conference. "They are professionals.

"His name is associated with different clubs, there are plenty of rumours, but the players have remained committed, they will be until the end of the transfer window.

"We will see what happens in the next few days."

Pochettino admitted it was a "difficult" game for PSG, who are aiming to re-claim the Ligue 1 title after missing out to Lille last season.

“It was a very difficult meeting, we did not start well," the Argentine said. "We conceded an early goal, we have to do a lot better. We conceded too many chances for my liking.

"There were good and not-so-good periods in the game but overall I'm happy. It was very important to get the three points and start the season in this way.

"We have to give credit to Troyes who made the game difficult for us. I hoped for better, but the opponent showed energy.

"We are still at the beginning of the season, still in the process of breaking in. We still hope to win 5-0, but we take this victory as it is."

PSG return to action on Saturday against Strasbourg.

Ronald Koeman proclaimed Lionel Messi to be the "best player in the world" after it was confirmed the Barcelona legend will be leaving the club.

Messi enjoyed an outstanding career at Camp Nou, scoring 672 times in 778 appearances, but his time with the LaLiga giants ended abruptly this week due to Barca's dire financial situation.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner was expected to sign a new contract, having become a free agent on July 1, before Thursday's announcement shocked the football world.

Koeman, who managed the forward during the 2020-21 campaign, joined a host of football's big names in paying tribute to Messi.

"Still hard to understand that you will not play for [Barcelona] anymore," the head coach wrote on Instagram. "Thanks for everything you have done for our club. I really enjoyed the full season we worked together.

"I am impressed with your work ethic and desire to win. It makes you the best player in the world. For now, I wish you and your family the best!"

With Messi expected to move to Paris Saint-Germain, Koeman must prepare for life without the four-time Champions League winner.

Memphis Depay and Antoine Griezmann will have incredibly large shoes to fill in the 2021-22 campaign, while Barca players past and present used social media to praise their former team-mate.

Gerard Pique, who won the treble with Messi in his first season back at the Catalan club, posted on Instagram that "nothing will ever be the same again" following the end of an era.

"Now you are leaving, but I know that one day you will come back," the centre-back continued. "There are pending things to do. Have fun, enjoy wherever you go and keep winning as only you know how to do. Here we will miss you. I love you Leo."

Luis Suarez, formerly part of the formidable trio with Messi and Neymar, pipped Barca to the title with Atletico Madrid last term but he too revealed his admiration for the "best player ever".

"I will always be grateful for how you received me since I arrived because of what a great human being you are," Suarez wrote.

"Proud to have shared thousands of wonderful moments at [Barcelona] and to be lucky to have played with you. I sincerely hope that what happens in the future is the best for you and your family. I love you so much."

Despite only playing for two campaigns with Messi, Barca youngster Ansu Fati used his Instagram account to say farewell to his captain.

"All the boys who come to the Masia dream of being able to play with you, I feel lucky to have fulfilled it," Fati posted. "I wanted to thank you these two years for your gestures of affection towards me and for everything I learned.

"[Messi] my family and I will always be eternally grateful, I wish you and yours all the best."

Lionel Messi will appear at a news conference at Camp Nou on Sunday, Barcelona have announced.

The Argentine forward is widely expected to join Paris Saint-Germain in the coming days after Barcelona said they could not afford to retain him.

That means Messi, 34, is likely to share his perspective of the departure that has stunned world football.

His contact expired at the end of June and both parties had agreed fresh terms, only for Barcelona to announce the bombshell news on Thursday that they could not proceed due to "financial and structural obstacles".

The club's all-time record scorer, who has made more appearances for Barcelona than any other player, recently won the Copa America with Argentina.

He landed the Copa del Rey with Barcelona last season, adding to an array of trophies. During his time at Barcelona, the only club of his professional career, Messi has helped the team win 10 LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues, while he has been awarded the Ballon d'Or a record six times.

Barcelona said Messi would address media in the Auditori 1899, a large function room at the stadium, at 12:00 local time on Sunday.

The club added: "On Thursday 5 August, it was announced that the Argentine star will not be staying at FC Barcelona, where he has set club records for appearances, goals and official titles."

There has been no indication of a change in Barcelona's stance, with seemingly little prospect of a U-turn.

Barcelona's announcement of Messi's departure stated it was a move that "both parties deeply regret", with the club citing "Spanish LaLiga regulations on player registration" as preventing them from handing him a new contract.

Like many clubs, Barcelona have been hit hard financially by the COVID-19 pandemic, while heavy spending on players in recent seasons has largely not paid off, with Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid winning the most recent two LaLiga titles. 

What Messi has to say about the recent chain of events is keenly awaited.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta said on Friday: "There was a moment when La Liga insinuated to us that the proposed contract could suffice, but after a technical analysis by its financial commission, they then informed us that wouldn't fully suffice either."

Everyone wants Lionel Messi but few have the resources to sign him.

Paris Saint-Germain appear to be strong favourites to land the Argentina international.

A deal could happen in the coming days.

 

TOP STORY - PSG CLOSE IN ON MESSI

PSG believe they are close to a deal to land Lionel Messi.

ESPN reports PSG have been in contact with Messi's father and agent Jorge "for some time" and are set to offer a three-year contract. 

Sky Sport Italia says the deal is more likely to be for two years with an option to extend it to a third. 

The ESPN report said adding Messi would make it more likely Kylian Mbappe would stay with the club rather than leave when he is out of contract next year, though it would end PSG's pursuit of Paul Pogba, partly due to FFP concerns.

 

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea are set to pay about £95million for Romelu Lukaku as Inter prefer a cash-only deal, the Daily Mail reports. Calciomercato says the Blues offered Davide Zappacosta and Marcos Alonso in a swap deal but the Nerazzurri were not interested. 

- Inter are looking within Serie A to replace their outgoing striker, Sky Italia says, with Atalanta's Duvan Zapata and Roma's Edin Dzeko their preferred options.

- Barcelona are trying to come to an agreement with Lille on midfielder Renato Sanches, Le10 Sport reports. 

- Rafa Mir is set for a move from Wolves to Atletico Madrid, with Fabrizio Romano reporting personal terms have been agreed. 

- West Ham have offered €14m (£12m) to Marseille for Duje Caleta-Car, L'Equipe reports, saying the Ligue 1 side are holding out for €20m (£17m).

Pep Guardiola insists Lionel Messi is not part of Manchester City's transfer plans after the six-time Ballon d'Or winner's sensational exit from Barcelona.

Messi was widely expected to sign a new deal at Camp Nou this week, to prolong a career-long association with Barca after his previous terms expired in June.

However, the club issued a statement on Thursday stating "financial and structural obstacles" – relating to both the Blaugrana's parlous financial state and LaLiga's strict economic controls – prevented Messi from signing a contract to which he had already agreed.

City were widely understood to be Messi's preferred destination when he attempted to leave Barcelona 12 months ago, but Paris Saint-Germain are viewed as the frontrunners this time around.

That impression was only heightened after Guardiola ruled out a reunion with his former protege, insisting City would proceed with the transfer plans that saw £100million man Jack Grealish become their record signing on Thursday.

"We have spent £40m on Jack Grealish - 100 we pay and 60 we won last year." Guardiola said, in one of several reference to the £60m boost his transfer kitty has received from City selling academy and loan players.

"He'll have the number 10 because we were incredibly convinced with Jack Grealish and were convinced that Leo would continue at Barcelona.

"Right now [signing Messi] is not in our thoughts, absolutely not."

Messi ascended to his place at the top of world football under Guardiola's guidance between 2008 and 2012, winning LaLiga on three occasions and the Champions League twice among a host of honours.

"It was a surprise for everyone, me included. President [Joan] Laporta was clear on the reason why," said Guardiola, who was speaking ahead of Saturday's Community Shield meeting with Leicester City at Wembley.

"They'd both like to continue. When you have €487m losses in one year the decision is made, unfortunately.

"As a supporter I'd love to him to have finished there but the club is not sustainable. What's happened is not good there and that's why they arrived in those terms [of Messi leaving].

"As a fan, incredible gratitude for the most extraordinary player I've ever seen in my life. Much more than for the titles he won for Barcelona, for what he did for me, to help me to become a better manager, to go to Munich and England.

"We won a lot, more than that is the incredible about of emotions and feelings to be in front of the TV watching what he can do with the ball with his mates in one football game. Day by day, game by game he did something unique."

As it stands, Messi's final appearance in a Barcelona shirt will be a 2-1 home loss to Celta Vigo as LaLiga slipped away last season.

Guardiola hopes a more fitting goodbye can be arranged.

"Hopefully one day we can properly have the best farewell game ever, because he deserves it," he added. "His contribution helped to take this club to another level, to dominate the world during a decade."

There were plenty of questions for Joan Laporta as he sought to explain Lionel Messi's Barcelona exit on Friday.

The morning after the night before, the Blaugrana president faced the media to give the club's stance on the failed contract talks that mean their talisman is heading elsewhere.

Laporta spoke for an hour and 20 minutes and covered a wide range of topics relating to Messi, Barca’s finances and the restrictions in place in LaLiga.

Stats Perform brings you 10 key quotes from an exhaustive news conference...

'The decision is over'

It was a blunt answer. Laporta had not come to the news conference to give Barca fans what he described as "false hope".

"The decision is over," he said. "It's done."

'Leo is not happy'

Nobody involved with Barca is happy with the outcome – including Messi himself.

"Leo wanted to stay, so he's not happy. We all wanted him to stay," Laporta explained. "For him, right now, it's a situation in which he has to confront reality. It is a reality that can't be changed. He knows that I wish him the best wherever he goes, him and his family. Barca is his home. He's enlarged this club's trophy list and we'll always be thankful."

'He tried to make it easy for us'

No blame was laid at the forward's door, with Laporta revealing two separate agreements between player and club – neither of which could work within LaLiga's regulations.

"We've been at it for two months and we've gone through different stages," Laporta revealed. "The first agreement was two years that would be paid in five years. Leo was in agreement with that. He was always present in negotiations and tried to make it easy for us. The first offer was two years of salary to be paid in five, and we thought that would be allowed in the regulations of fair play, but the criteria of cash came into play. It's not allowed here where it is in other countries. It's all part of a process.

"LaLiga also had its pressure because there are other clubs that want regulations and rules to be abided by.

"Then we agreed to a five-year contract, which was also accepted by Leo, even though we were all thinking of two more years. We all agreed: two years and, if he wanted more, we could sit and talk about it. We wanted the era post-Messi, the one we start today, to start in two years. Taking into account the circumstances, we've had to bring that forward. We all wanted to enjoy his talent, his magic playing at Barca, but at the moment it can't be. When we did the five-year contract that we thought would be allowed – and I had insinuated that this would be allowed – a technical analysis by the LaLiga commission found that this contract wouldn't be valid within those regulations."

'I said we would do everything'

Laporta had based much of his election campaign around the idea of keeping Messi at the club, but he did not regret this approach.

"I said this several times: I said that we would do everything possible for Messi to stay at Barca within the economical situation of the club," he said. "We reached an agreement with Messi, we just weren't able to formalise it."

'We don't have any margins'

Indeed, Laporta preferred to take aim at predecessor Josep Maria Bartomeu due to the state of the club when he took over.

"We don't have any margin," began Laporta's opening statement. "We knew that when we got to the club, but the numbers that were presented to us after the first audit, and our analysis, those numbers are a lot worse than those exposed initially, which are what we are working with now."

He added: "An investment of that volume with the contract of Messi was risky. We wanted to assume those risks, but when we have realised the real situation at the club after the audit, it means that we would have put the club at great risk."

'They have not given us satisfactory answers'

Bartomeu was not the only individual criticised, though, with Laporta repeatedly highlighting issues with a deal LaLiga have done with CVC Capital Partners, which will see the private equity firm acquire 10 per cent of the league's commercial business for €2.7billion.

LaLiga chief Javier Tebas posted on Twitter during the news conference to query Laporta's suggestion the agreement would impact broadcasting rights.

Informed of the post, Laporta replied: "I will tell you that we do not interpret it that way. In fact, yesterday our senior executives spoke with those who run this operation and they have not given us satisfactory answers. I understand the legal formulas that you articulate, because they are ingenious, but this implies giving up a part of our rights with a horizon of half a century. In addition, I would tell you that the amount set by CVC is much lower than what, for us, the 10 per cent of LaLiga should be valued."

'Those are personal conversations'

Laporta was far more guarded over conversations he might have had with Tebas as LaLiga's best player departs the competition.

"Those are personal conversations," he said. "I can't disclose them."

'The player has had other offers'

Laporta insisted he does not know where Messi will go next, but he suggested there had already been contact from rival clubs.

"During the course of negotiations, we've known that the player has had other offers," he said. "And there was a time limit – both for us, because of LaLiga starting shortly, and for them as well, because he needs some time. As fair play continues to be rigid, the player also needs some time to see what he's going to do and evaluate his situation and look at other options."

Laporta added: "He's the best player in the world and logic takes you to think that he has other very good offers."

'The tribute that Leo Messi deserves'

Messi has been on holiday in Ibiza, while his father flew in for discussions this week, but Barca hope to be able to pay tribute to their legendary number 10 in future.

"The tribute for Leo Messi will be the tribute that Leo Messi wants, whatever he likes, whatever he wants to do," Laporta confirmed. "If it was up to us, we'd pay tribute to Leo Messi every day for what he's done for Barca. With the circumstances we're in right now, in terms of the pandemic, in terms of the economic situation, in terms of the pre-season, that makes it complicated. I hope that one day we can see the tribute that Leo Messi deserves."

'We're starting a new era'

For now, the focus at Camp Nou must be on the new season, with a squad learning to play without their stalwart superstar.

"Everyone was waiting for Leo to go to the dressing room and start training," Laporta said of the squad. "I had to tell them it's not going to happen. We're starting a new era and it has to be successful. They're the protagonists of that. They have to make us proud and they need to prove that we can win without players of the talent of Leo Messi, who's the most talented player in the world."

Mauricio Pochettino admits Paris Saint-Germain are "working hard" to improve the team amid strong links to free agent Lionel Messi.

PSG open a new Ligue 1 season with a trip to Troyes on Saturday, though Pochettino's pre-match media conference understandably saw a focus on the possibility of a big-name arrival in the French capital.

Messi is looking for a new team after Barcelona confirmed they will not be signing the Argentina superstar to a new deal on Thursday, ending his long association with the club as they grapple with financial issues and LaLiga salary restrictions.

The 34-year-old was said to be a target for PSG a year ago when he wanted to leave Camp Nou, only to end up staying put to play out the final year of his contract.

Pochettino confirmed sporting director Leonardo and president Nasser Al-Khelaifi are looking into making further additions to the first-team squad.

"As I said before, we are focused on the start of the season," the PSG boss said.

"At the same time, the club is working hard and discreetly in the transfer window to improve the team in order to reach the goals set for this year.

"Regarding Messi, we know what happened yesterday, but we are focused on the Troyes game and the desire to have a good game to start the season.

"Leonardo and our chairman are working to improve the team."

When the subject of Messi was raised again later, Pochettino replied: "In Messi's case, it's the quality of a player of this caliber that counts.

"The club works hard, assesses options and of course Messi is one. But our priority is to prepare well for the match against Troyes."

PSG have already had a busy window, bringing in goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, centre-back Sergio Ramos and midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum on free transfers, as well as signing Achraf Hakimi from Inter.

Not all the new faces will be involved against Troyes, with Pochettino confirming Ramos will have to wait to make his debut as the Spaniard recovers from a calf injury.

Kylian Mbappe could feature from the outset, however, having missed the Trophee des Champions defeat to Lille last weekend.

The France international's own future at PSG is the subject of much speculation as he moves into the final year of his current deal, with Real Madrid reportedly determined to sign the former Monaco star.

"He is at the disposal of the team," Pochettino said. "There is a high percentage chance that he will start the game."

Barcelona have not ruled out signing a replacement for Lionel Messi despite their financial constraints.

Messi will not return for the 2021-22 season, Barca announced on Thursday, with a new deal unable to fit within LaLiga's salary restrictions.

President Joan Laporta, explaining the collapsed negotiations on Friday, confirmed new recruits Sergio Aguero, Eric Garcia, Emerson Royal and Memphis Depay could be registered, though.

And despite a desperate financial situation, which Laporta said was "a lot worse than exposed initially", there could yet be a further arrival to help plug the gap left by Barca's greatest ever player.

"No, the first team squad isn't done, isn't closed," the president said. "The market closes on August 31, so lots of things could happen."

Barca already appear well stocked in attacking areas, with Aguero and Depay boosting a forward line that includes Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho.

Martin Braithwaite and Rey Manaj – the Barcelona B striker – have both played and scored for the Blaugrana in pre-season.

Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland was also linked early in the transfer window, although the Bundesliga outfit are highly unlikely to accommodate a sale Barca could afford.

Lionel Messi is "not happy" at the failure to agree a new contract with Barcelona, according to Joan Laporta, who signalled the start of a "new era" for the club.

Messi had appeared set to agree fresh terms at Camp Nou after becoming a free agent at the end of last season.

But Barca announced on Thursday "economic and structural obstacles" had prevented them from retaining their greatest ever player, unable to fit his salary within LaLiga's restrictions.

Speaking to the media on Friday, club president Laporta revealed he "made the decision that I had to say this was enough" on Wednesday before a "last conversation" with Messi's father Jorge.

He explained: "What we can't do is just keep prolonging the agony, making things longer."

Asked what Messi had made of the development, Laporta replied: "Leo wanted to stay, so he's not happy. We all wanted him to stay.

"For him, right now, it's a situation in which he has to confront reality. It is a reality that can't be changed.

"He knows that I wish him the best wherever he goes, him and his family. Barca is his home. He's enlarged this club's trophy list and we'll always be thankful."

Laporta has also spoken to the Barca squad, revealing he addressed them in person on Friday to outline a future without their talisman.

"It was very important to do that," he said. "I had already talked to the captains by telephone.

"I thought it was very important, as we reached this point in negotiations with Leo. Everyone was waiting for Leo to go to the dressing room and start training.

"I had to tell them it's not going to happen. We're starting a new era and it has to be successful. They're the protagonists of that.

"They have to make us proud and they need to prove that we can win without players of the talent of Leo Messi, who's the most talented player in the world."

Laporta added: "I think this was an important moment. I saw the captains' faces. I asked them to give extra from themselves.

"I want the team spirit to be high, very strong. The captains need to lead by example. They need to lead the process for this new era.

"We're bringing in these young players who are proving to be very talented, and the new signings, we need to explain to them that Barca is a club of 122 years of history.

"We've gone through different moments, different eras. This is their opportunity now. From north to south, from east to west, they'll have all the support from the club to be successful."

On discussions with head coach Ronald Koeman, Laporta said: "I talked to Ronald. He's a man of the club, a great professional.

"He has the ability to adapt quickly to new situations and he said that, obviously, we're going to go for everything, we're going to go at it.

"Not having a player like Messi will obviously be difficult to replace, but he's motivated.

"He's integrated in the club and he wants this new era to be splendid, to be successful. He and the players need to be protagonists in that."

Lionel Messi already had offers from other clubs after becoming a free agent and Barcelona president Joan Laporta is unwilling to offer "false hope" of a resolution.

Barca sensationally announced on Thursday their greatest ever player would not be returning to the club.

Messi's contract had expired at the end of last season, but a new deal was anticipated ahead of the new campaign, with an announcement reportedly imminent this week.

The tone of reports in Spain changed on Thursday, however, and Barca soon confirmed they were unable to do a deal due to "economic and structural obstacles" as any agreement could not fit within LaLiga's salary restrictions.

Laporta faced the media on Friday and, after an opening statement in which he blamed the developments on the dire financial situation left behind by previous president Josep Maria Bartomeu, he suggested there was no possibility of resurrecting talks with Messi.

"The decision is over," Laporta said. "It's done."

He explained: "I don't want to generate false hope. During the course of negotiations, we've known that the player has had other offers.

"And there was a time limit – both for us, because of LaLiga starting shortly, and for them as well, because he needs some time.

"As fair play continues to be rigid, the player also needs some time to see what he's going to do and evaluate his situation and look at other options.

The suggestion Messi could lower his demands was put to the president, who replied: "Those are all hypothetical situations. They're not real as of today.

"If I'm here today, it's not because of what may or may not happen. I wanted to be here with Leo today. It was the dream of every Cule, but we have to live in the real world.

"I like to dream but we have to live in the reality that this is what happens. I can imagine a lot of things, there are a lot of things I would like to happen, but right now that is not easy."

Asked where he wanted to see Messi play next, Laporta said: "I would like to see Leo Messi play at Barca, but whatever is done is up to him. You have to ask him. I will not answer that."

Pressed on Paris Saint-Germain's potential interest, he added: "I don't know that, but it is always said that they have options."

Barca's salary status has restricted the registration of all new players, which included Messi as a free agent.

But Laporta explained the club's close-season signings – Sergio Aguero, Eric Garcia, Emerson Royal and Memphis Depay – had agreed to favourable terms Barca could accommodate.

"People ask, 'Why can we sign Kun? Why can we sign Emerson? Why can we sign Memphis?' Because these are players that come to Barca accepting certain conditions in terms of salary," Laporta said. "We have to thank them for that.

"The arrival of one of these players isn't comparable to what it would have meant to formalise those agreements with Leo Messi in terms of fair play."

Asked if all four players could be registered, he added: "Regarding our calculations, yes. If we'd inscribed the deserved salary of Messi, that is obviously different to the salaries we are talking about now.

"I hope there will be no problems, because these players have made an effort."

Barcelona's announcement that Lionel Messi would leave the club appeared to bring a remarkable transfer saga to an end on Thursday.

Despite becoming a free agent at the end of last season, the Blaugrana great was expected to sign a new contract with the club, reportedly agreeing a 50 per cent reduction in wages.

However, due to "economic and structural obstacles" – namely LaLiga's salary restrictions – Barca and Messi were unable to reach an agreement on a deal the club could afford.

These remarkable developments seemingly spell the end of a glittering Camp Nou career for Messi, who scored a staggering 672 goals for the Catalan giants in all competitions.

So, how did it all come to this? The timeline below shows it has been quite the soap opera.

 

January 13, 2020 – Despite the club being top of LaLiga, Barca confirm the dismissal of Ernesto Valverde four days on from a Supercopa de Espana defeat to Atletico Madrid. Quique Setien is appointed as head coach on a two-and-a-half-year contract, with a supposed return for Blaugrana legend Xavi failing to come to fruition.

February 3, 2020 – In an interview with Catalan publication Sport, sporting director Eric Abidal says the club had begun considering Valverde's future after the 0-0 draw with Real Madrid on December 18. He adds that he and his colleagues identified "many players weren't satisfied nor working hard and there was also an internal communication problem".

February 4, 2020 – Messi hits back at Abidal, calling on him to name individuals rather than tar every player with the same brush. Writing on Instagram and highlighting a section of Abidal's quotes, Messi says: "I honestly don't like to do these things, but I think everyone has to be responsible for their tasks and take care of their decisions. The players [are responsible for] what happens on the pitch and we are also the first to recognise when we are not playing well. Those responsible for the area of​​ sports management must also assume their responsibilities and especially for the decisions they make. Finally, I think that when talking about players we should give names, because if not we are all getting dirtied and feeding things that are said but aren't true." Furthermore, ESPN report Messi has been playing through a thigh problem for a number of weeks after the club failed to sign attacking reinforcements and let Carles Perez and Abel Ruiz leave after Luis Suarez was ruled out for four months.

March 30, 2020 – Amid the coronavirus lockdown, Messi confirms the players agreed to a 70 per cent pay cut. However, he makes it clear he is unhappy about pressure put on them. He posts on Instagram: "Much has been written and said about the Barcelona team in regards to the salaries of the players during this state of emergency. We want to clarify that our will has always been to take a cut in the salary we receive, because we fully understand that this is an exceptional situation and we are always the first ones to help the club when asked. Therefore, it does not surprise us that from within the club there were those who tried to put us under pressure to do something we always knew we would do. The agreement has been delayed for a few days because we were looking for a formula to help the club and its workers during these difficult times."

July 16, 2020 – Barca suffer a shock 2-1 home defeat against Osasuna, handing Madrid the league title. Messi makes his dissatisfaction known, saying that they must improve quickly or risk Champions League elimination in their last-16 second leg against Napoli. In a post-match interview, he tells Movistar: "People are losing patience after defeats to Roma and Liverpool in recent years. We need a break and forget about this if we want to fight for the Champions League. We need to change a lot, otherwise we will also lose against Napoli. I already said before that playing like this we won't be able to fight for the Champions League and you see, we could not even fight for the league. We need to be self-critical."

August 14, 2020 – While they managed to get past Napoli despite an unconvincing performance, Barcelona are thrashed 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-final. It is their heaviest defeat in European competition and the most goals they have conceded in a single game since 1946.

August 17, 2020 – Setien is sacked by the club and presidential elections are brought forward to March as the club signals its intention to rebuild. It is reported that the majority of the first team are put for sale.

August 18, 2020 – Sporting director Abidal is relieved of his duties a day after informing Setien his time with the club was up.

August 19, 2020 – Barca icon Ronald Koeman is appointed head coach on a two-year contract. He said of Messi upon being presented to the media: "He is a Barcelona player. He has another year [on his contract]. I don't know if I have to convince him to stay."

August 22, 2020 – Tensions increase as Argentine publication Clarin claims Messi is furious that details of a meeting with Koeman were leaked to the media. RAC1 had reported Messi told the new coach he is 'more outside the club than inside' and he had little faith in president Josep Maria Bartomeu. Koeman is alleged to have said to Messi: "The privileges in this squad are over, you had to do everything for the team. I'm going to be inflexible; you must only be thinking about the team."

August 24, 2020 – Messi's close friend Suarez is one of four players – the others being Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitic and Samuel Umtiti – supposedly told by Koeman they have no future at the club. Suarez, Vidal and Rakitic all subsequently depart.

August 25, 2020 – Messi informs Barca he intends to leave the club, using a clause in his contract to exit on a free transfer, via burofax. Manchester City promptly emerge as favourites for his signature.

August 30, 2020 – LaLiga claims the €700million release clause in Messi's Barca contract remains valid and must be paid for his deal to be terminated unilaterally. On the same day, Messi fails to report for pre-season coronavirus testing.

September 4, 2020 – Messi confirms he will stay at Barcelona for the final year of his contract in an emotional interview, in which it is all too apparent his preference would have been to leave.

October 27, 2020 – Pressure on the board persists with the clock ticking on that deal. Even with presidential elections on the horizon, in which he would not be able to stand for a third term, Bartomeu faces a vote of no confidence and instead announces his resignation, along with the entire Barcelona board. The outgoing president claims the club have begun proceedings to join a European Super League.

December 22, 2020 – Joan Laporta, previously president between 2003 and 2010, emerges as the leading candidate for the March elections and declares confidence he will convince Messi to stay. "If I win the elections, I want to make a very competitive proposal and I know he will listen to me. I want him to stay," he tells RAC1. "I have an advantage over others, he knows I've always fulfilled what I said. We have a good relationship, we appreciate each other and we respect each other."

February 1, 2021 – With his successor still to be elected, Bartomeu is forced to deny leaking details of Messi's contract. Spanish newspaper El Mundo reports the deal Messi signed in 2017 could earn him in excess of €555m. It was also revealed Barca's debts had risen above €1.1billion, with the COVID-19 pandemic having a huge impact.

March 7, 2021 – After Messi and his team-mates vote in the elections, Laporta is confirmed as Barca's new president. He wins 54.28 per cent of the vote and continues to speak of confidence Messi will commit to his only senior club. "Seeing the best player in the world come out to vote today is a clear sign of what we keep saying," he says. "Leo loves Barca."

April 18, 2021 – Barca, led by Laporta, are one of 12 elite clubs to announce their involvement in a breakaway European Super League.

April 22, 2021 – The unpopular Super League plans quickly collapse, but Barca, Real Madrid and Juventus remain committed to the project. Given the Blaugrana's dire financial situation, Laporta claims the lucrative proposed competition is "absolutely necessary".

May 28, 2021 – The season ends with no new Messi deal in place, although Laporta insists negotiations are "progressing well". However, he also promises new signings, which do not tally with the club's financial difficulties. Sure enough, Sergio Aguero, Eric Garcia, Emerson Royal and Memphis Depay are all soon signed, but there is little by way of outgoing movement.

June 30, 2021 – Messi's contract officially expires, making him a free agent. While LaLiga president Javier Tebas refuses to ease the competition's salary restrictions, Laporta says: "We are doing well but you have to fit a deal into the financial fair play."

August 4, 2021 – LaLiga confirms a €2.7billion deal with CVC Capital Partners, with 90 per cent of the injection earmarked for clubs. Only €42m of this is set to be available for Barca to spend on transfers and wages, but it is hoped this investment will help the Blaugrana do the deal as Messi's father Jorge prepares to fly in for talks.

August 5, 2021 – After widespread reports in Spain tell of a hitch in the deal, Barca sensationally announce Messi will leave the club. "Despite having reached an agreement between FC Barcelona and Leo Messi and with the clear intention of both parties to sign a new contract today, it will not be possible to formalise it due to economic and structural obstacles (Spanish LaLiga regulations)," a statement read. "Given this situation, Lionel Messi will not continue to be linked to FC Barcelona. Both sides deeply regret that the wishes of both the player and the club cannot ultimately be fulfilled. Barca would like to thank the player most sincerely for his contribution to the aggrandisement of the institution and wishes him the best in his personal and professional life."

August 6, 2021 – In a long and in-depth press conference, Laporta made it clear there was simply no margin in Barca's salary situation to retain Messi, despite the player wanting to stay. He reveals a five-year agreement paying him two years of salary had been agreed, but was not cleared by LaLiga amid financial fair play rules. "In LaLiga, we have to abide by the rules, we feel they could be more flexible but that's not an excuse. We knew we couldn't abide by it due to the situation," he said, admitting a decision had been taken amid opposing the competition's deal with CVC Capital Partners that would "affect the club for the next 50 years." If the statement had not made it clear enough, Laporta admitted Messi's time with the club is over.

 

Barcelona keeping Lionel Messi would have put the club at great risk according to Joan Laporta, who criticised both the previous regime and also LaLiga in a powerful media conference.

The Spanish club sensationally announced on Thursday that Messi would not be continuing at Camp Nou, despite agreeing terms on a new contract.

A short statement revealed how "financial and structural obstacles" made a deal impossible, despite an injection of funds stemming from the league signing an investment and revenue-sharing deal with CVC Capital Partners, who will hold a 10 per cent stake.

Barca joined rivals Real Madrid in denouncing the plan, with Laporta unwilling to mortgage the long-term future of the club by accepting the restructure, even if that meant ruling out retaining Messi.

The club's president also discussed how the Josep Maria Bartomeu regime had created serious financial problems, even greater than he initially thought following a thorough audit.

"We don't have any margin. We knew that when we got to the club, but the numbers that were presented to us after the first audit, and our analysis, those numbers are a lot worse than those exposed initially, which are what we are working with now," Laporta said in his opening statement to the media on Friday.

"That means that the losses are a lot more elevated than expected, we are spending a lot more than we expected and the current contracts mean that we have this salary of great magnitude, allowing us no margin.

"This is all tied to fair play, the financial fair play in LaLiga meant we couldn't fit in the first contract we had agreed to with Lionel Messi.

"In order to have that fair play, Barca had to agree to an operation that would affect the club for the next 50 years, in terms of television rights [the CVC deal].

"That has meant that as I've had to make a decision, I can't make one to affect the club for the next 50 years, the club is over 100 years old, it's above everyone, everything – even the best player in the world, the best player who has been with us for years, and we will always thank him for what he's done for us."

Laporta made clear that Messi had wanted to remain with Barcelona, with reports suggesting the Argentina superstar was willing to take a 50 per cent pay cut.

However, LaLiga president Javier Tebas made clear in recent weeks that the governing body would not relax financial rules just to keep the competition's biggest name.

"The reasons why we have decided to get to this point of negotiations is that there are objective reasons regarding the economical situation of the club," Laporta continued.

"An investment of that volume with the contract of Messi was risky. We wanted to assume those risks, but when we have realised the real situation at the club after the audit, it means that we would have put the club at great risk.

"The salary has a great deal to do with that, after a calamitous situation that was down to the previous board of administrators. If we terminate the current contacts, that also has risks, the only way to have that salary margin right now, was to accept that operation. We can go into details, but it’s an operation that puts at risk the club for the next 50 years.

"We understand we can't do that. Leo wanted to stay at Barca, we wanted him to stay, the fact he wanted to stay was the first step that was made. That was a key factor - he wanted to stay."

Messi's future is unclear as the major European leagues all prepare for the start of a new season. A move to Manchester City was strongly rumoured a year ago when the 34-year-old pushed to leave, though it is unclear if the Premier League champions retain any interest in a deal at this time.

Paris Saint-Germain are the early favourites, with Laporta making clear negotiations are over with Barca as he looks to do what is best for the club in their current circumstances.

"I want to thank everyone who has been in the negotiations during the past few months, with all the little intricacies, there were a lot of aspects to be negotiated as well," Laporta said in closing.

"It needed to be compatible with fair play, be of a certain duration, and after all of this, there comes a moment when you need to say enough.

"You need to analyse it rigorously with a cold head and look at the numbers. In LaLiga, we have to abide by the rules, we feel they could be more flexible but that’s not an excuse. We knew we couldn’t abide by it due to the situation.

"Leo deserves everything – he has proven that he loves Barca, he has his roots here.

"I'm sad, but I'm convinced we've done the best for the club."

So now we know: Lionel Messi is leaving Barcelona.

Having pushed hard to force through an exit a year ago, the Argentina superstar appeared set to commit his long-term future to the Spanish club by signing a new deal this offseason.

However, his Camp Nou days now appear over due to "economic and structural obstacles", despite reportedly agreeing to take a 50 per cent wage reduction. Put simply, the dire financial situation means Barca cannot keep their prized asset.

Unless there is another dramatic twist to the saga (and we definitely should not rule that out just yet), Messi must find a new home.

So where could the six-time Ballon d'Or winner end up? The list of options appears to be short, albeit varied.

Hello, Paris!

Paris Saint-Germain are the early front-runners in this unexpected race, and rightly so. Thanks to owners Qatar Sports Investments, the Ligue 1 side have the financial backing to make Messi a tempting offer, plus they would give him a chance of Champions League glory once again – they were beaten finalists in 2020, then knocked out in the last four the following season.

Compatriot Mauricio Pochettino is there, as too are international team-mates Leandro Paredes and Angel Di Maria. When you add in another familiar face in former Barca colleague Neymar, it suddenly seems like a cosy, obvious fit. Such a signing could also help sway Kylian Mbappe to sign a new contract, or at least make it far more palatable to consider cashing in on the Frenchman before his deal runs out.

The Pep reunion tour

A year ago, when Messi made us look up exactly what a burofax is, Manchester City appeared the likely landing spot. A once rock-solid relationship with Barca appeared in tatters, amid disgruntlement over what was happening both on and off the pitch. Moving to England would have finally answered the old line of, 'Yeah, but can he do it on a wet Tuesday in [insert team here]?', as well as reuniting him with Pep Guardiola, the coach who twice steered Barca to Champions League glory.

However, City have seemingly moved on since missing out on Messi. Not so long after Barca's statement was released, the Premier League champions confirmed the signing of Jack Grealish for £100million. Harry Kane has also been heavily linked with them, and the England captain will not come cheap (certainly if Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has anything to do with it). Even with City, there is a limit to how much you can spend.

Made in Chelsea

So how about Messi moves to the Premier League anyway, but just not to the club where everyone once expected? Chelsea have not been mentioned too much as a possible destination, either last year or now, but they have the resources and are seemingly keen to add to their attacking options, considering rumours of moves for Erling Haaland and, more recently, Romelu Lukaku. Unlike that duo, Messi is unattached and available for nothing (in terms of a transfer fee at least).

However, those links to central strikers suggest head coach Thomas Tuchel and the Chelsea hierarchy have a certain idea of what they want to add to the squad – and it may not be a 34-year-old who would require a rethink over the entire structure of the team. While Messi would no doubt enhance the Blues, west London appears unlikely to be welcoming him into the neighbourhood.

ML-YES!

Could Messi be set to take the well-trodden path from Europe to the United States? MLS has appeared a viable option for him at some stage in his playing days – he even said so himself in an interview with La Sexta in December 2020: "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!" Well, that dream could now become a reality, with the competition having a history of attracting big names in the twilight stages of their careers.

David Beckham did just that, and now he is heavily involved with Inter Miami – perhaps the leading MLS option for Messi. New York and Los Angeles could factor into consideration, with the chance for a global superstar to take the plunge in a major market. In truth, though, it seems this idea could come to fruition further down the line, rather than in the coming weeks.

No place like home…

While he has been at Barcelona since his teenage years, coming through the famous La Masia youth academy, Messi started out with Newell's Old Boys in Argentina. A move back to his hometown of Rosario would be a wonderful way to bookend his illustrious playing days. However, having scored 30 goals in 35 LaLiga games last term, he shows no signs of his ridiculously lofty standards slipping just yet.

Diego Maradona did have a brief stint there, with Messi revealing a Newell's number 10 shirt after scoring against Osasuna to pay tribute to the Argentina legend, who died in November 2020. Still, after finally securing a first international trophy with the national team, winning this year's Copa America on Brazilian soil, a return to his roots appears unlikely.

Where will Lionel Messi land?

Barcelona's shock announcement of his departure set rumours flying.

Will it be Paris, Manchester or somewhere else?

 

TOP STORY - MESSI ON THE MARKET

Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City are rumoured to be the top suitors for Lionel Messi.

The French giants have already made contact with Messi's representatives, according to Fabrizio Romano, and are seen in many quarters as the favourites to land the Argentine forward.

It remains to be seen wherher PSG can take on Messi after making several major moves during the transfer window, while City may be in a similarly difficult situation after finalising their £100million deal for Jack Grealish on Thursday.

A reunion with Pep Guardiola may still be a possibility, though, especially if Tottenham refuse to engage in talks around a Harry Kane deal.

Major League Soccer could also be a possibility, though Messi is expected to remain in Europe for at least a few more years.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United have not given up on a move for Kieran Trippier, though they have not come close to Atletico Madrid's £34million demands for the England international, The Sun says.

- West Ham are in talks with Fiorentina for centre-back Nikola Milenkovic, Fabrizio Romano reports, with the Serie A side eyeing Matija Nastasic of Schalke as a replacement.

- Arsenal have bid £17m for Lazio striker Joaquin Correa, claims Corriere dello Sport.

- Juventus are interested in bringing back Barcelona's Miralem Pjanic on either a loan or a permanent deal, says Calciomercato.

- Roma are lining up a £21m bid for Fulham midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, says Gazzetta dello Sport.

- Crystal Palace are among multiple clubs hoping to lure Adam Armstrong from Blackburn, with the Daily Mail saying they are favoured ahead of Norwich City and Southampton.

Lionel Messi and Barcelona are going their separate ways, and shock at the announcement was splashed across the front pages of Friday's newspapers.

The record goalscorer in LaLiga history, who has made more appearances for Barcelona than any other player in the club's history, is seemingly now on the lookout for a new team.

According to Barcelona, both they and Messi wanted to renew the Argentine forward's contract, but salary-cap limitations have apparently prevented them from doing that.

In an effort to comply with financial fair play regulations, Barcelona were left with little option but to release their captain and driving force.

The sport newspapers that have chronicled Messi's dizzying feats with the Catalan giants expressed astonishment.

Marca, the Madrid-based daily, led with a headline of "Barca let Messi escape", with a subheading stating they have lost "the greatest player in their history".

"Bombshell! Messi is leaving!" was the headline in Mundo Deportivo, with the newspaper declaring Paris Saint-Germain to be front-runners in any battle to secure the services of the 34-year-old.

Its front-page picture depicts Messi on the Camp Nou pitch, seemingly poised to deliver a free-kick for the Blaugrana, which is a sight that may never be witnessed again.

AS published a front-page portrait shot of Messi, staring at the camera, with the headline of "He's not staying". The front page adds: "Barca announce that Messi won't renew and blame LaLiga."

Barcelona's announcement on Thursday evening spoke of "financial and structural obstacles" preventing the club and player extending their partnership. Messi made his first-team debut at the age of 17 and has won six Ballon d'Or trophies while at the club, helping Barcelona to win 10 LaLiga titles and the Champions League four times.

Sport's headline of simply "Drama. Messi is leaving" was published with a sombre black background and a shot of a pensive Messi.

El Periodico de Catalunya also elected for a largely black background and the headline of "Incredible".

It pictured Messi with a ball at his feet, and his back to the camera, a mournful allusion to him walking away from the only club of his professional career.

The newspaper added on its front page: "Barca surprisingly announce that Messi is going and blames LaLiga for his exit."

Another Catalan newspaper, ARA, also pictured Messi with his back to the camera, the newspaper choosing a shot of the forward with his head bowed.

"Barca can't renew Messi" read its headline.

The newspaper added: "The club blames the league for hindering the continuity of the striker."

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