BARCELONA - Lionel Messi wept on Sunday as he bade farewell to his boyhood team FC Barcelona and confirmed he was talking with French club Paris St Germain over a possible move.
The 34-year-old Argentine's emotional news conference followed Barca's announcement last week that it could no longer afford him after a glittering two decades.
French newspaper L'Equipe reported on Sunday that he will travel to Paris either Sunday or Monday to undertake a medical and finalise a deal with the Qatar Sports Investment-owned club.
Spanish newspaper Marca reported PSG formally sent their offer to Messi on Sunday morning, just as the Argentine held the news conference.
Soccer Football - Copa America 2021 - Final - Brazil v Argentina - Estadio Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - July 10, 2021 Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates winning the Copa America as he kisses the trophy REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
While Messi did not confirm he would definitely join the Parisians, he said his plans were to carry on playing as long as possible, adding he still harbours ambitions to win another Champions League trophy.
"As long as I go on being competitive and as long as my body responds (I'll carry on playing)," he told a news conference.
"As long as I can, I will carry on competing."
PSG declined to comment on the report that Messi would be arriving in Paris later on Sunday. "We are not in a position to confirm anything," a club spokesman said.
"I tried to behave with humility and respect and I hope that is what remains of me when I leave the club," said an emotional Messi as hundreds of fans, many wearing his No. 10 jersey, massed outside Barca's Camp Nou stadium to bid farewell to the player they called Messiah.
Messi broke down as he walked onto the stage before conducting his news conference and was handed a tissue by his wife Antonella Roccuzzo as he fought back the tears.
"This is the toughest moment of my career. When the club told me, I just froze. This is all like a bucket of cold water has been poured over me and we are still coming to terms with it," he sobbed.
"When I get home, I'm sure it'll be even worse. But I'll be surrounded by my loved ones and I'll carry on playing football, and when I do so, I'm sure it'll become a bit easier."
It had been widely reported by local media that Messi was set to stay at Camp Nou, with the player admitting he had agreed to a five-year deal involving a 50% pay-cut.
Barca, whose debts total way over 1 billion euros ($1.18 billion), were unable to make the deal work within the frameworks of La Liga's financial fair play regulations - prompting their surprise u-turn announcement last Thursday.
"Honestly, when the elections happened (in March), I spoke with (Barca president Joan) Laporta, we had dinner and after that I was convinced I would be staying," Messi said.
"My contract was never the issue ... What I know is that I did everything I could. The club say it could not happen because of La Liga. I can guarantee you that I did everything I could to stay. Last year I didn't want to and I said that, but this year it was different."
La Liga announced last Wednesday that it had secured a private equity injection of 2.7 billion euros from firm CVC, with the funds to be shared amongst the clubs in return for a 10% of the league's revenue.
It had been believed this would allow Barcelona to get the Messi deal over the line, however after Real Madrid rejected the proposal and said they would take legal action against La Liga, Barca also came out against it.
Laporta told a news conference on Friday that Barca's finances were in worse shape than he had thought after conducting an audit.
He added the league informed him that accepting this injection was the only way they would approve a new contract for Messi, but rejected that saying he had to put the long-term interests of the club above any player.
Marca also reported on Sunday that Barca fans had hired a French lawyer, who had lodged a case with the Paris Appeals Court to try and block Messi's move to PSG.
Messi, Barca's all-time record goalscorer with 682 in 21 years, received a lengthy standing ovation from the media, current and former team mates and coaches in attendance.
It was noticeable that he was not accompanied by Laporta or any of the other Barcelona directors.
All 35 trophies he won during his time at the club were laid out for what the club described would be a private photo session after the news conference.
Barcelona face Juventus in a pre-season friendly on Sunday, with nobody given Messi's No.10 shirt for the game.
The club have not confirmed if they plan on leaving it vacant for the new season.
Who Is Lionel Messi?
Lionel Messi is a soccer player with FC Barcelona and the Argentina national team. He has established records for goals scored and won individual awards en route to worldwide recognition as one of the best players in soccer.
Lionel Messi, pictured in a Barcelona kit back in 2003
Luis Lionel Andres (“Leo”) Messi is an Argentinian soccer player who plays forward for the FC Barcelona club and the Argentina national team. At the age of 13, Messi moved from Argentina to Spain after FC Barcelona agreed to pay for his medical treatments.
There he earned renown as one of the greatest players in history, helping his club win more than two dozen league titles and tournaments. In 2012, he set a record for most goals in a calendar year, and in 2019, he was named Europe's Ballon d'Or winner for the sixth time.
Messi was born on June 24, 1987, in Rosario, Argentina. As a young boy, Messi tagged along when his two older brothers played soccer with their friends, unintimidated by the bigger boys. At the age of 8, he was recruited to join the youth system of Newell's Old Boys, a Rosario-based club.
Recognizably smaller than most of the kids in his age group, Messi was eventually diagnosed by doctors as suffering from a hormone deficiency that restricted his growth. Messi's parents, Jorge and Ceclia, decided on a regimen of nightly growth-hormone injections for their son, though it soon proved impossible to pay several hundred dollars per month for the medication.
So, at the age of 13, when Messi was offered the chance to train at soccer powerhouse FC Barcelona's youth academy, La Masia, and have his medical bills covered by the team, Messi's family picked up and moved across the Atlantic to make a new home in Spain. Although he was often homesick in his new country, Messi moved quickly through the junior system ranks.
Ultimately, Messi's short stature (5 feet, 7 inches), combined with his speed and relentless attacking style, has drawn comparisons to another famous Argentinian footballer, Diego Maradona.
Soccer Career and Teams
FC Barcelona and Argentina
Messi has only played for FC Barcelona, where he first signed at age 13. He also plays for the Argentina national team.
By the age of 16, Messi made his first appearance for the FC Barcelona, putting himself in the record books on May 1, 2005, as the youngest player to ever score a goal for the franchise. That same year, he led Argentina to the title in the under-20 World Cup, scoring on a pair of penalty kicks to propel the team over Nigeria.
Messi steered Barcelona to a wealth of success, most notably in 2009, when the left-footer's team captured the Champions League, La Liga, and Spanish Super Cup titles. That same year, after two consecutive runner-up finishes, he took home his first FIFA "World Player of the Year" honor/Ballon d'Or award.
Even the great Maradona gushed about his fellow countryman. "I see him as very similar to me," the retired player told the BBC. "He's a leader and is offering lessons in beautiful football. He has something different than any other player in the world."
Amazingly, the soccer wizard continued to improve, discovering new ways to elude defenders while leading Barcelona to La Liga and Spanish Super Cup championships in 2010 and 2011, as well as the '11 Champions League title.
Messi embarked on an all-out assault on the record books in 2012. He became the first player to score five goals in a Champions League match in early March, and a few weeks later he surpassed Cesar Rodriguez's club-record 232 goals to become Barcelona's all-time leading scorer.
By the end of 2012, Messi had accumulated an astounding 91 goals in club and international play, eclipsing the 85 netted in a single calendar year by Gerd Muller in 1972. Fittingly, he broke another record when he was named the FIFA Ballon d'Or winner for the fourth time in January 2013.
The soccer great came back to earth somewhat that year due to the persistence of hamstring injuries, but he regained his record-breaking form by becoming the all-time leading scorer in La Liga and Champions League play in late 2014.
After helping Barcelona achieve a historic second treble in 2015, he was honored with his fifth FIFA Ballon d'Or trophy. Four years later, following another La Liga title, Messi again established a new standard for excellence by claiming his sixth Ballon d'Or.
Criticism for Argentina National Team Performance
For all his success with Barcelona, Messi has come under fire for his inability to help Argentina's national team win a major title. He did lead "La Albiceleste" to the final of the 2014 World Cup, and was named player of the tournament, although his team lost to Germany.
In 2016, following Argentina's second consecutive loss to Chile in the final of the Copa America tournament, Messi announced he was ending his run with the national team.
The soccer great eventually reversed his decision, but his participation in the 2018 World Cup did not bring that elusive title, as hoped. After Messi scored an early goal in a 2-1 win over Nigeria that helped his team advance from the group stage, he was largely kept in check by France, his two assists not enough to stave off a 4-3 defeat that sent Argentina packing.
The following year, after Messi heavily criticized the referees in the wake of a 2-0 loss to Brazil in the Copa America semifinals, the Argentine captain was slapped with a three-game ban by the South American Football Confederation.