LIONEL MESSI SET TO LEAVE BARCELONA

Lionel Messi has called off negotiations over renewing his contract with Barcelona and is ready to leave the Catalans when his current deal expires next year, according to a report by Spanish radio station Cadena Ser.

The report said the Barca captain and his father Jorge had begun discussing renewing his last deal with the club, which was signed in 2017, but that he no longer wishes to stay.

It added that Messi is angry about leaked media reports that appeared to make him seem responsible for events at the club, such as the January sacking of coach Ernesto Valverde, and that he is frustrated about the squad’s lack of quality.

Messi, 33, scored his 700th career goal on Tuesday against Atletico Madrid.

But the milestone strike ended in disappointment as Barcelona were held to a 2-2 draw in the latest blow to their bid to retain the La Liga title.

Barca trail Real Madrid (74) by four points in the title race, with five games remaining after Real beat Getafe 1-0 on Thursday.

Previously known for his shy personality off the pitch, Messi has become more vocal in his criticism of the club in the last year.

In January, he hit out at sporting director Eric Abidal, who he said had implied players had led to Valverde being sacked.

In a February interview with newspaper Mundo Deportivo, he declared the team were not good enough to win this season’s Champions League.

Then in April, he criticised the board for implying players were not willing to accept a pay-cut to help the club’s financial difficulties during the coronavirus pandemic.

Real manager Zinedine Zidane is hoping that Messi will stay in Spain.

He said: “I don’t know what will happen, but he is in this league and we want the best in this league.”

The Frenchman also praised his side’s team spirit after beating a resolute Getafe side at home to inch ever closer to their first La Liga title for three years.

The league leaders created scant chances against their gritty neighbours, but finally got the goal they needed when captain Sergio Ramos converted a late penalty.

“We did an incredible job against a side who caused us loads of problems, but we got the victory because of our team spirit,” Zidane said after Real won their sixth game in a row. “Me and the players have been suffering a lot because we have had to work so hard.

“It’s not easy. But you can’t achieve anything without suffering.”

-Reuters, AFP