Messi misses virus test as La Liga rules £624m release clause is valid

League backs Barcelona over stip­u­la­tion in player’s con­tract Move to City may be forced through fol­low­ing no-show

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Football - By Jeremy Wil­son CHIEF SPORTS RE­PORTER

La Liga has ruled that the £624 mil­lion release clause in Lionel Messi’s Barcelona con­tract re­mains valid af­ter the Ar­gentina striker demon­strated his de­ter­mi­na­tion to leave by fail­ing to re­port to the club’s train­ing ground yes­ter­day.

With some se­nior fig­ures at Barcelona ex­pect­ing Messi to join Manch­ester City, a bit­ter dis­pute ap­pears in­evitable af­ter it emerged that La Liga will side with the Span­ish gi­ants over the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Messi’s ex­tra­or­di­nary release clause.

Messi had wanted to leave for free by ex­er­cis­ing a clause in his four-year con­tract, signed in 2017, that would have al­lowed him to de­part for noth­ing if he sub­mit­ted a re­quest be­fore June 10 of this year.

Messi’s lawyers will ar­gue that date, nom­i­nally 10 days af­ter the ex­pected end of the sea­son, should still ap­ply as the 33-year-old sub­mit­ted his re­quest to leave within that time pe­riod fol­low­ing the end of the post­poned 2019-20 sea­son.

La Liga, how­ever, has now in­ter­vened to say that it will not dereg­is­ter the great­est goalscorer in the

Up­set: Barcelona sup­port­ers have been left dev­as­tated by the talk of Lionel Messi’s exit

com­pe­ti­tion’s his­tory un­less the release clause is met.

Messi was due at Barcelona’s train­ing ground for a Covid-19 test at 10.15am yes­ter­day, ahead of a planned re­turn to team train­ing to­day, but did not at­tend. All mem­bers of the first-team squad had been given an in­di­vid­ual time to turn up at their Ci­u­tat Es­portiva train­ing base, with player test­ing stag­gered through­out the morn­ing.

Messi’s no-show means that he can­not now take part in train­ing to­day and, al­though he could be fined by Barcelona, also sug­gests that he is ready to force through a move.

With Messi out of con­tract next sea­son, and Barcelona labour­ing un­der a wage bill of £598 mil­lion, as well as losses from the coro­n­avirus pan­demic which are es­ti­mated at €154 mil­lion (£135 mil­lion), some sort of fi­nan­cial com­pro­mise still ap­pears prob­a­ble.

That could mean City pay­ing a ne­go­ti­ated fee for Messi, al­though cal­cu­lat­ing the mar­ket value of ar­guably the great­est foot­baller in his­tory re­mains com­plex.

Messi has scored 444 La Liga goals in his ca­reer, top-scor­ing in seven sea­sons and help­ing Barcelona to win 10 league ti­tles and four Cham­pi­ons Leagues. His last match was the em­bar­rass­ing 8-2 Cham­pi­ons League de­feat by Bay­ern Mu­nich ear­lier this month.

City man­ager Pep Guardi­ola, who man­aged Messi to vast pre­vi­ous suc­cess at Barcelona, was pic­tured along­side a Barcelona restau­rant owner in a photograph that was cir­cu­lated on so­cial media on Fri­day night.

The ma­jor­ity of City play­ers are on in­ter­na­tional duty and are not ex­pected back un­til Sept 9 or 10, when they will first have to be tested for coro­n­avirus. Even if he must now face a two-week quar­an­tine, Guardi­ola would be back in the train­ing ground on Sept 12, giv­ing him nine days be­fore the club’s first game of the sea­son.

There was no for­mal state­ment from Barcelona or Messi – just La Liga, which lost its other most fa­mous star two years ago when Cris­tiano Ron­aldo joined Ju­ven­tus for £80mil­lion, also at the age of 33.

“The con­tract is cur­rently valid and has a ‘release clause’, which would ap­ply in the event of Lionel An­dres Messi de­cid­ing to uni­lat­er­ally re­scind that con­tract early,” La Liga said. “La Liga will not process the ap­proval needed prior to a re­quest to be dereg­is­tered as a player with the Span­ish foot­ball fed­er­a­tion, un­less the amount in the release clause has been paid.”

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