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Messi contract valid, says La Liga, after he fails to turn up for COVID-19 test

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La Liga on Sunday released a statement saying Lionel Messi’s Barcelona contract was still valid, days after his shock announcement that he wants to leave the club and hours after he failed to attend a pre-season medical.

Messi’s failure to show for his medical underlined the 33-year-old’s determination to leave the club he has been with throughout his career.

The six-times world player of the year insists he has a clause in his contract that allows him to leave on a free transfer -- a claim disputed by Barcelona and now by La Liga.

The ruling body said the only way a club can sign the Argentine forward is if he triggers a release clause of 700-million euros ($833 million).

“In compliance with the applicable rule, La Liga will not approve a request to be de-registered as a player with the Spanish football federation, unless the amount in the release clause has been paid,” La Liga said.

Reuters footage showed players arriving for coronavirus tests on Sunday morning and Messi did not appear. He had been due at Barcelona’s training ground at 10.15am local time but a club source confirmed to Reuters he had not arrived.

La Liga’s stance is a blow to Messi’s hopes of a quick departure and to those clubs wishing to sign him.

Premier League Manchester City are the favorites which would allow Messi to link up with his former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola but even the Abu Dhabi-owned club might find a 700 million-euro fee, plus Messi’s huge salary, a deal-breaker.

Messi, who has won more than 30 major trophies with the Spanish club and scored more than 600 goals, earns around one million euros per week.

He informed Barca on Tuesday he wished to leave immediately, plunging the club into new turmoil less than two weeks after their humiliating 8-2 Champions League quarter-final defeat by Bayern Munich.

Messi’s lawyers plan to invoke a clause in his four-year contract, signed in 2017, which would have allowed the forward to leave the club for free if he had requested it by June 10.

They will argue that that date -- nominally the end of the season -- is now irrelevant after the coronavirus pandemic forced an extension of the La Liga season deep into August.

Barcelona said Messi was the only player who did not undergo the tests at the club’s training center. The team is set to resume training on Monday ahead of the upcoming start of the season.

Messi announced his decision to leave on Tuesday by sending the club a burofax, a certified document similar to a telegram.

The Argentina great reportedly said he wanted to negotiate with the club, but Barcelona said Saturday it was not willing to facilitate his exit. The club said it would like for Messi to finish his career with the Catalan club.

League president Javier Tebas had said a few months ago that the league was not really affected financially after Cristiano Ronaldo left Real Madrid to join Juventus, not seeing a reduction in television audiences or rights contracts. But he said that Messi’s departure could be different and could possibly be “noticeable” for the league.

There were rumors earlier in the week that Messi would show up for Sunday’s tests to avoid breaking team rules while negotiating his departure, but his people reportedly told the club on Saturday of his intentions not to attend the testing.

Barcelona will resume training with incoming coach Ronald Koeman in charge after Quique Setién was fired following the team’s 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals of the Champions League on Aug. 14. The defeat, one of the worst in Messi’s career and in the club’s history, prompted Barcelona to announce “profound” changes to the first-team and a “wide-ranging” restructuring of the club.

Koeman reportedly told Luis Suárez, Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal and Samuel Umtiti that they are not in his plans for the future, but all of them showed up for the required tests on Sunday.

Suárez has been a longtime teammate and friend of Messi, and the decision to get rid of the Uruguayan striker was believed to have upset Messi and played a part in his decision to leave.

The 33-year-old Messi had been outspoken about the club’s poor decisions this season, its first without a trophy since 2007-08.

Messi’s adoring fans at Barcelona were split over his apparent determination to force a move.

“A captain cannot abandon ship if it is sinking, but there isn’t much time left until the end of his career and he has the right to choose what he wants,” Eva Domingo, 39, said as she took a photo of graffiti depicting Messi as Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara pulling along a suitcase saying Manchester.

“I think he should sit down and talk if he wants to go, he should pay 700 million, and if not, then one more year here,” said Pablo Garcia, wearing an FC Barcelona face mask.

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