Argentina superstar Lionel Messi is now a free agent after his current contract with FC Barcelona officially ended on June 30. Widely tipped to sign a two-year extension, the 34-year-old has yet to put pen to paper and decide on his future.

Messi has been a part of the Barcelona set-up for more than 20 years and is currently the leading scorer in the club's history. He started his football journey with the Catalan giants before entering his teens and has the opportunity to end his career with the Spanish giants. However, if he decides to part ways, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner will no longer be a ‘one-club man’.

When did Messi sign his first contract?

Lionel Messi, then 12-years-old, signed an informal contract with Barcelona on December 14, 2000. The young forward, his father Jorge Messi and his agents Fabian Soldini and Horacia Gaggioli travelled to Spain for a trial with the Spanish giants.

Barcelona’s former technical director, Carles Rexach, watched Messi play for around 10 minutes before leaving, which made his family and representatives believe that the prodigious youngster may be rejected.

Although his action gave a wrong impression, Rexach - impressed with Lionel Messi within two minutes of his trial - got him to sign a contract with the club, albeit on a paper napkin. The Barcelona director didn’t want to let the forward leave after his agents threatened to take a young Messi for trials to rivals Real Madrid.

The contract read, “In the presence of Messrs Minguella and Horacio, Carles Rexach, technical secretary of FC Barcelona, a commitment is made under his responsibility, and despite some opinions against, to sign the player Lionel Messi as and when receive the agreed quantities.” 

When did Messi sign his first professional contract?

On February 4, 2004, nine months before his senior debut in La Liga, Lionel Messi signed his first professional contract with Barcelona. The contract tied him down to the club until 2012 with a release clause of €30 million.

The club rewarded Messi with a contract after he impressed with an eight-minute hat-trick in a Under-19 Copa del Rey game against Sevilla in May 2004.

Following his debut for Barcelona B in the Segunda División B a month later, Messi’s buyout clause automatically increased to €80 million. In October 2004, the young forward made his senior debut as an 82nd-minute replacement for Portuguese midfielder Deco.

When did Messi sign his first contract as a senior player?

Lionel Messi signed his first contract as a senior Barcelona player on his 18th birthday on June 24, 2005. This contract meant the Argentine forward would remain at the club till 2010 and have a release clause of €150 million.

In three months, Messi had his contract extended by another four years, thus keeping him with Barcelona till 2014.

In the next two years, 2007 and 2008, Barcelona would offer Lionel Messi new contracts that raised his wages and made him the highest-earning player. Messi’s wage package now would be around eight million euros per year, and he could pocket another 4.5 million euros through incentives.

Lionel Messi’s match-winning role in Barcelona’s UEFA Champions League triumph in 2009 saw the Blaugrana tie him down to a two-year extension to his existing deal. This meant the Argentine would remain at Nou Camp till 2016 and have a revised buyout clause of €300 million.

Between 2013 and 2017, Messi was the subject of multiple rumours of a Barcelona exit amidst reported fallouts with multiple managers due to a failure to secure silverware. Besides penning a two-year extension in 2013, the Argentine was constantly surrounded by media speculation until he signed a new four-year deal that kept Messi at the club till the end of the 2020-21 season.

Messi’s release clause was then set at a staggering 700 million euros, which later became a critical factor of his apparent fallout with the Barcelona hierarchy at the end of the 2019-20 season.

Why does Messi want to leave Barcelona?

In August 2020, Lionel Messi expressed his intention, via a burofax, to leave Barcelona with immediate effect. This decision came on the back of the club’s 2-8 loss to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League and his subsequent distrust in the way the club was functioning under former president Josep Bartomeu.

Messi had also earlier publicly lashed out at former Barcelona sporting director Eric Abidal in February 2020, after the Frenchman in an interview with Sport had apparently blamed the players for manager Ernest Valverde’s sacking in January.

Messi posted a picture of the interview on Instagram, with a red circle around one part which read: “The man in charge of the sporting directorate explains that ‘lots of players were not satisfied and nor did they work much’.” Underneath, he denied that the sacking was the players’ responsibility and accused Abidal of “dirtying” the squad.

While Lionel Messi had affirmed his intention to play out his entire career at Barcelona, the 34-year-old felt that the club lacked the hunger for a title challenge and thus wanted to leave for free - as per a clause in his latest contract.

However, Lionel Messi along with his father and agent Jorge Messi would find themselves in a tussle with the Barcelona hierarchy and La Liga president Javier Tebas. The La Liga president insisted that the clause, as mentioned earlier - to walk away for free - expired due to the COVID-19 pandemic and that both parties could terminate their relationship as employer and employee if a potential club or the player himself pays the 700 million euro buyout amount.

Which club is Messi going to play for in 2021-22?

Lionel Messi may not bid adieu to his beloved Barcelona just yet, as it is rumoured that the 34-year-old could sign a new two-year contract to keep him at the club until 2023. However, there is a possibility that the little magician could draw curtains to a trophy-laden career in Spain and move either to England, France, the USA or back home in Argentina.

Here are some clubs Messi has been linked with over the years.

Manchester City

English Premier League champions Manchester City have long been rumoured to be a potential new club for Lionel Messi. The reason behind this is not just because they could afford his wages but also because it would reunite Messi with Pep Guardiola.

During their four seasons together at Barcelona, the pair won 14 trophies, which included three La Ligas, three Supercopa de Espanas, two UEFA Champions Leagues, two Copa del Reys, two UEFA Super Cups and two FIFA World Club Cup.

With the Cityzens having transformed into a team that constantly challenges for trophies, Messi could perhaps do with a switch to taste the competitiveness of English football.

Paris Saint-Germain

Another team that could potentially live up to Lionel Messi’s wage demands is PSG. The French giants were reportedly willing to offer the Barcelona captain a whopping £800,000-a-week wage package, according to Sportsmole.

If Messi were to accept the offer, it would make him the most expensive player in the world - in terms of salary - and reunite him with Brazil star and former Barca teammate Neymar.

Newell’s Old Boys

In a 2018 interview with Argentine television station El Trece, Lionel Messi declared his desire to play for Newell’s Old Boys towards the end of his playing career.

Born in his native village of Rosario in Argentina, Messi trained with Newell’s Old Boys as a youngster before leaving to sign for Barcelona aged 12.

“I always said I wanted to play in Argentine football one day, I don’t know if it will happen but I have it in my mind,” Lionel Messi said.

“It would be at Newell’s, nowhere else. I would like to do that for at least six months, but you never know what will happen,” Messi added.

Lionel Messi will always be regarded as the greatest player that Barcelona ever produced. The 34-year-old is not just the all-time leading goalscorer in the club’s history (672 goals and 288 assists in 778 appearances) but also the top-scorer in La Liga history with 474 goals and 217 assists in 520 games.

Messi’s trophy cabinet includes 10 La Liga crowns, Seven Spanish Cups, seven Copa del Reys, four Champions League titles, three FIFA Club World Cups and three European Super Cups.

On the personal front, Leo Messi is a six-time Ballon d’Or winner, six-time Golden Shoe winner, and finished as the top-scorer in La Liga for seven seasons besides also topping the goal-scoring charts in the UEFA Champions League for six seasons.

Featured photo: AFP / FRANCK FIFE