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Lionel Messi will remain at FC Barcelona to avoid entering a legal dispute with the world’s highest-earning football club, despite previously stating a desire to leave the Catalan team where he has been a player for over almost two decades.

On Friday, the Argentine, widely considered the world’s best footballer, said that he would now see out his playing contract at Barcelona, which ends in June 2021.

But he attacked Barcelona’s management, including under-fire president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who has so far resisted calls to resign from fans amid a leadership crisis at the club.

“I wasn’t happy and I wanted to leave,” Messi told football news website Goal. “I have not been allowed this in any way and I will stay at the club so as not to get into a legal dispute. The management of the club led by Bartomeu is a disaster.”

Last month, the 33-year-old sent an official document to Barcelona executives requesting the invoking of a clause in his contract that suggests he is able to leave on a free transfer in the final year of his deal.

The club believes the deadline to trigger this clause had passed and that any rival team seeking to acquire Messi would need to pay a “buyout” fee worth €700m. La Liga, the body that run’s Spain’s top league, has supported the club’s position in the dispute.

In August, Barcelona suffered a humiliating 8-2 defeat against Germany’s Bayern Munich in the quarter finals of the Champions League, Europe’s top club football contest, one of the worst losses in its history. The club has failed to win a Champions League since 2015, suffering a series of collapses in the later stages of the competition in recent years. 

In response, the club has sacked head coach Quique Setién and sporting director Eric Abidal. Mr Bartomeu has suggested many players will leave the club, though Barcelona’s newly appointed head coach Ronald Koeman has said he considers Messi an integral part of his plans

With Barcelona, Messi has won the Champions League four times. He has also been awarded the Ballon d’Or, the annual prize given to the world’s best footballer, a record six times.

Off the pitch, Barcelona has risen to become the world’s richest football club, wealth built on sponsorship and global merchandising sales that are partly a result of Messi’s global celebrity.

Over the 2018/19 season, new commercial activities helped the club earn €840.8m, roughly €150m more than the same period a year earlier and €83.5m more than Real Madrid, the second-highest earning club.

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