Football superstar Lionel Messi has reportedly inked a monster deal that will seal his ugly exit from the club where he has spent his entire career.
The Argentine wants to leave Barcelona after Bayern Munich thumped the Spanish giant 8-2 in the Champions League quarter-finals last month, and he's tipped to make his way to England.
The Daily Record reports Messi has agreed to a five-year deal worth $1.1 billion (AUD) with City Football Group (CFG) — the company that owns Manchester City in the English Premier League.
According to the report, the deal will see Messi play for the Sky Blues for three seasons, before linking up with New York City FC — the American Major League Soccer club also owned by CFG — for two seasons.
A move to Man City would see Messi reunited with former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, but the Catalan club isn't prepared to let the 33-year-old go without a fight.
Messi missed a coronavirus test at Barcelona's training ground on Sunday, raising the possibility he would boycott pre-season activities to force a transfer.
Messi has a $1.1 billion release clause in his contract, which would be triggered should he quit Barcelona before his deal expires midway through 2021, but the star striker and his lawyers believe a separate clause means he should be allowed to leave for free this summer.
Barcelona insists a clause included in Messi's contract that allowed him to go for free had to be activated by June 10 and the only way he will be allowed to depart now is via the payment of $1.1 billion.
La Liga, who were always likely to take the side of the club, agree that Messi's release clause is still valid.
"The contract is currently in force and has a 'termination clause' applicable if Lionel Andres Messi decides to activate the early unilateral termination of the contract," La Liga said in a statement.
"In compliance with the regulations and procedure in these cases, La Liga will not deregister the player from the (Spanish football) federation unless they have previously paid the amount of said clause."
Yet Messi's lawyers believe the clause that allows him to leave for free refers not to a specific date but to 10 days after the end of the season. Given last season was extended into August due to the pandemic, they maintain Messi's request to leave came within the agreed period.
It means the split between one of the world's biggest clubs — and the most famous footballer on the planet, along with Cristiano Ronaldo — is getting messy.