Lionel Messi is set to leave FC Barcelona after his club said a new contract “cannot happen” in line with financial fair play rules set by LaLiga.
The six-time Ballon d’Or winner has officially been a free agent since 1 July after he failed to agree terms over a renewal before his previous Barcelona contract expired on 30 June.
However, the 34-year-old had been expected to sign a new five-year contract with the Catalan club, which would have seen his salary reduced by 50%.
In a statement, Barca insisted both it and Messi were willing to extend his stay but claimed LaLiga regulations had made this impossible.
The club had been struggling to reduce its wage bill, in line with LaLiga’s financial fair play rules, for the coming season with the COVID-19 pandemic severely reducing its budget for 2021-22.
FC Barcelona said: “Despite FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi having reached an agreement and the clear intention of both parties to sign a new contract today, this cannot happen because of financial and structural obstacles (Spanish Liga regulations).
“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.
“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.”
The club has been in talks with vice-captains Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto about reducing their salaries by 40 per cent in return for contract extensions.
It has also been trying to sell several high earners, including Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele, and Philippe Coutinho.
Wage caps in LaLiga are calculated prospectively based on the club’s financial health, and clubs must adhere to the cap to avoid financial penalties.
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It was thought a €2.7bn (£2.3bn) investment in LaLiga from private equity firm CVC would help Barcelona overcome their difficulties, but the injection has not proven enough to enable the club to hold onto Messi.
Messi has spent his entire career at Barcelona, coming through the club’s academy before going on to score 672 goals in 778 appearances after making his senior debut in 2003.
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