The end of Lionel Messi's tenure with Barcelona did not come without warning, and still arrived too soon for him to be ready for.
In an emotional farewell address on Sunday, Messi, one of the most resonant athletes in the world, said that although his next move is not confirmed it will take him to a new home.
"I am really sad because I didn't want to leave because this is the club I love," he said. "I didn't expect this. I have never lied; I have always been honest and upfront. Last year I wanted to leave; this year I didn't. That's why I am so sad."
A six-time world player of the year, Messi's previous contract was worth over US$594 million and expired on July 1. Messi and Barcelona had reached a new five-year deal, but that agreement would have left the club's wage bill at 110 per cent of its revenue, putting it in violation of La Liga's rules.
Spanish league rules restrict each club's spending to a percentage of club revenue. Barcelona entered the summer needing to cut about $240 million from its wage bill to register new players — including Messi — next season. After being unable to do so, and despite Messi's willingness to take a significant pay cut, the two sides will be parting ways.
"As the president [Joan Laporta] has explained, the club has debt [problems]," Messi said. "It's not possible. Why keep drawing it out if it's nearly impossible? The talks stopped as Barca did not want to go on, they knew La Liga would not let it happen, it was impossible. I did everything I could to stay and it wasn't possible. I offered to reduce my salary by 50 per cent and Barca didn't ask for anything else. They didn't ask for another 30 per cent, that's a lie."
Messi said he had received calls from several clubs since the news broke, including Paris Saint-German.
According to ESPN, a deal between PSG and Messi is in place, with the 34-year-old from Argentina expected to travel to Paris on Sunday, where he will complete a medical evaluation in the coming days and then sign a two-year deal with the option for a third season. The deal, ESPN reported, could be presented at an event at the Eiffel Tower next week.
"[PSG] is one possibility," Messi said. "There's nothing closed at the moment but we're talking about a lot of things. After Barca's statement, a lot of clubs showed an interest. There's nothing final but, of course, there are talks. ...There is no doubt that I will go to a team that will compete with Barca. I didn't want to leave, but I have to. And I want to keep winning. That's my mentality. I want to win."
Messi first joined Barcelona's academy in 2000. He played a total of 778 games for the club and scored 672 goals, both club records. His performances helped Barcelona win 10 La Liga titles and the Champions League on four occasions.
"Without a doubt, this is the most difficult time of my career," Messi said. "I have had a lot of tough moments, but the other day, [learning I was] not going back to training, not going to be on the pitch again, that this is the end with this club, yes, it's one of the most difficult moments for me."