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Messi tells Barça he wants to leave

Barcelona, Aug 25 (efe-epa).- Lionel Messi is invoking a clause in his contract with FC Barcelona that he contends gives him the right to leave the club on a free transfer, sources in the organization told Efe Tuesday.

The Argentine legend conveyed the message via registered letter, the sources said.

Under the terms of the superstar’s contract with the Blaugrana, the 33-year-old Messi was entitled to request a release prior to June 10.

When June 10 passed without such a request, the contract was automatically renewed for another year, according to Barcelona management, who insist that any club interested in acquiring Messi must pay the rescission fee of 700 million euros ($826m).

Messi, who has spent his entire senior career with Barça, signaled a desire for change in his first conversation with Ronald Koeman, named last week to replace Quique Setien as coach after the side’s humiliating exit from the Champions League.

In the initial official response to Messi, also conveyed by registered letter, FC Barcelona directors urged the captain to remain with the Blaugrana and spearhead the club’s new sporting project “with renewed strength and hope.”

While trying to persuade Messi to stay with Barça until he’s ready to retire, the message reiterates that he can’t leave now for another club unless the release fee is paid.

The striker’s request for an exit came hours after former Barcelona club president Joan Laporta accused the present management of hoping for a financial windfall from selling Messi.

And the news of the request brought renewed calls for the resignation of current Barça president Josep Maria Bartomeu, whose tenure has been marred by strife among management, players and coaches.

Bartomeu “has to resign immediately,” Laporta said, accusing the president and the other directors of “undermining Messi’s morale” and voicing the hope that new management could persuade the six-time Ballon d’Or winner to stick with the Blaugrana.

Messi has collected 33 trophies in his 19 years at Barcelona, including 10 LaLiga titles and four UEFA Champions League titles, and holds the Spanish top-flight record for most goals, 444.

His long-time strike-partner at Barcelona, Luis Suarez, tweeted emoticons in approval of Messi’s decision to leave.

Suarez, Barça’s No. 3 all-time scorer with 196 goals in 292 appearances, is one of several veteran players told by Koeman that his services will no longer be required.

The man who preceded Messi as Barcelona’s captain, Carles Puyol, was similarly encouraging.

“Respect and admiration, Leo. All my support, friend,” Puyol said on Twitter.

Barcelona is coming off one of their most disappointing seasons in recent memory. They saw their quest for a third straight LaLiga crown spoiled by archrivals Real Madrid, while Athletic Bilbao bounced them out of the Copa del Rey in the quarterfinals.

But their 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in a Champions League quarterfinal on Aug. 14 turned out to be the final straw for Setien and sporting director Eric Abidal.

Messi, who made no effort to hide his disgust with the outcome against Bayern, appears to have decided that his best chance of hoisting the Champions League trophy for a fifth time lies elsewhere.

Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City are said to be interested in signing Messi.

Both clubs have deep pockets, but whether they could shell out the sums required to secure Messi without breaching UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations is an open question.

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