Lionel Messi may get a proper Barcelona farewell after all as his bid to leave the club collapsed this week.
The Argentine star, a six-time Ballon d'Or winner, tried to force his way out of the Camp Nou after two decades with the Catalan giants, following another painful collapse in the Champions League.
However, the club would not let him walk for free, insisting on his 700 million euro (828 million dollar) release clause being triggered for him to escape.
Messi revealed his frustrations with the club in an interview with Goal, explaining his anger at the lack of a project at Barcelona, and with the current president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
The forward claims Bartomeu said he could leave at the end of the season but now won't let him go because of the date in his contract being specified as June 10 for a decision on his future - when football was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Now Messi faces one more season at the club he has played for all his life, in which he will hope to sign off better than he did this campaign, with a painful 8-2 European defeat by Bayern Munich.
A fitting finale is what Messi deserves after a glittering era at Barcelona, which has seen him win 10 Spanish league titles, six Copa del Reys and four Champions Leagues, among other trophies.
Centrepiece of Koeman's project
Ronald Koeman has been brought in to turn the club’s fortunes around after a collapse under coach Quique Setien that saw them throw their lead in La Liga away and rivals Real Madrid storm to the title.
Messi will now form part of that rebuild even if,at 33, he is reaching the end of his career. A new president might persuade him to stay, with elections scheduled for March, but from January Messi is free to negotiate a move to any other club, with his contract expiring in June 2021.
In the meantime he will be the centrepiece of Koeman’s project, surrounded by young, exciting but still raw talents like Ansu Fati, Trincao and Pedri.
Messi's team-mates and friends Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal are poised for moves away as Barcelona tighten their belts and try to bring down the eye-watering salary bill.
So it is set to be a season of transition for the Catalans, but boosted by the presence of the club’s greatest ever player, top scorer and potentially the best of all-time.
Messi might take a few weeks to get his head straight after believing he could walk away from Barcelona, and he revealed the toll his decision took on his family before he was blocked from leaving.
"When I communicated my wish to leave to my wife and children, it was a brutal drama," Messi told Goal on Friday. "The whole family began crying, my children did not want to leave Barcelona, nor did they want to change schools.
"But 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 for it and let us not fall apart in Rome, Liverpool, Lisbon. All that led me to think about that decision that I wanted to carry out."
Hard time deciding
Those Champions League collapses will eat at Messi and for now the chances of Barcelona thriving in Europe and giving him a shot at winning the trophy for the first time since 2015 look slim.
The leading sides on the continent are all too powerful for a Barcelona in disarray on sporting and institutional levels.
"Of course I had a hard time deciding. It does not come from the Bayern result, it comes from many things," added Messi.
"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.
"And the truth is that there has been no project or anything for a long time, they juggle and cover holes as they go."
Messi being made to stay against his will is just another hole being covered, but at least he gets the chance for a proper send-off, especially if supporters are allowed to return to stadiums at some point during the coming season.