Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman has admitted that Lionel Messi’s exit from the club is “still hard to understand” ahead of his official farewell on Sunday.
The Argentine superstar has spent the entirety of his professional career at the Catalan giants but will not sign a new contract at Camp Nou, with the club immersed in financial difficulties.
Barca confirmed the shock news on Thursday that Messi would not be renewing his contract at the club due to their inability to comply with La Liga’s budgetary regulations and spending rules.
The 34-year-old has been out of contract at the Blaugrana since 1 July but it had been reported that his renewal was inevitable as the club only needed to slim down their wage bill.
Thursday’s bombshell news was followed on Friday by president Joan Laporta confirming the extent of the club’s financial difficulties and inability to extend Messi’s contract.
The 34-year-old - who has won a record six Ballon d’Or crowns throughout his glittering career - is now a free agent and is strongly expected to join Paris Saint-Germain.
Messi will now hold a press conference on Sunday at 11am BST in which he is expected to say his final goodbyes to the club and its supporters.
“Thanks for everything you have done for our club Leo. I really enjoyed the full season we worked together.
“I am impressed with your work ethic and desire to win. It makes you the best player in the world. For now, I wish you and your family the best!”
The news has plunged Barca into chaos on the eve of the season as they had been planning for their superstar forward and captain to be an integral part of their plans.
The club are still unable to register any of their four summer signings as they are still operating above their wage budgets.
Free agents Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia are all currently unable to be registered with La Liga, alongside Brazil international Emerson Royal - whom the club signed following a co-agreement deal with Real Betis.
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Numerous tributes have been paid with now former team-mate Frenkie De Jong writing on Instagram : “It has been a dream for me to play with the best player in history, I enjoyed every minute on and off the field of play.
“Now I will continue to enjoy your magic but again like when I started, in front of the television. Thanks for everything, Leo.”
Cesc Fabregas - Messi’s former Barca teammate - wrote on social media: “I will always remember the day you came to the dressing room when I was 13 years old and they told us that a boy from Argentina was coming to try.
“You sat down and didn’t speak the whole time. The coach told me in the 1v1 exercise to be strong against you, I saw you so small, that I thought in a second I would take it away from you.
“Silly of me, you left me on the floor and from then on I saw that you were something different. My dream was always to play for the Barca first team, but doing it with you and Geri (Gerald Pique) always made that dream much more special.
“In the end, it became a reality and just for the mere fact of feeling football as I felt it playing false 9 with you and seeing the connection that there was, it was all worth it. You go the best player of all time. It will never be the same to see Barca without you.”
After 778 appearances and a staggering 672 goals, Messi will move on from Barcelona with 10 La Liga titles, four Champions League crowns and three Club World Cups among his haul of 35 trophies.
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