Captain Lionel Messi has told Barcelona he wishes to leave the club immediately, deepening the turmoil within the Catalan side less than two weeks after their humiliating 8-2 defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
Barcelona confirmed to The Associated Press news agency on Tuesday that Messi sent the club a document expressing his desire to leave.
Barcelona said it told Messi it wants him to stay and finish his career at the club. It hinted that a legal battle could be coming and said it will not automatically grant the Argentine great his wishes.
The dispute centres around a clause in Messi’s contract.
Under the terms of the contract, which expires in 2021, the only way Messi can leave without the club’s consent is if a rival side pays his release clause of 700 million euros ($828m).
The Argentine’s request to leave Barca comes a day after Spanish media reported that new coach Ronald Koeman told Messi’s close friend and strike partner, Luis Suarez, he does not wish the Uruguayan to stay at the club.
Other reports said Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal, Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic and French defender Samuel Umtiti have also been told they are no longer wanted.
Barca are in the midst of overhauling their squad following the defeat by Bayern which condemned the club to a trophyless season for the first time in 12 years.
After the loss, Barcelona announced it would make “profound” changes to the first team and a “wide-ranging” restructuring of the club. The changes began with the firing of coach Quique Setien a few days after the defeat in Lisbon, and new presidential elections were called for March.
Messi, who has been named world player of the year a record six times, has grown increasingly unhappy in the last 12 months with how the club is being run under president Josep Maria Bartomeu.