Lionel Messi is staying at Barcelona but for how long?
Messi can negotiate with other teams from January 1 and leave next summer, when his contract expires and this time he really will be able to go for free.
Until then, Barca have to find a way to re-integrate the club’s greatest ever player, who no longer wants to play for them.
His announcement laced with bitterness on Friday was not greeted with celebration, even among the fans, many of whom had supported his decision to go, finding some relief in the idea of him rediscovering success elsewhere.
There was silence too from the players, none of whom gave the kind of public show of support that Luis Suarez and Carlos Puyol offered when Messi told Barca he was leaving.
Even the club seemed unsure how to react. It took almost three hours before a picture of Messi dropped on their social media accounts, featuring the only positive words he had spoken during his earlier interview, not through the club’s official channels, but with Goal.
“I’m going to give my best. My love for Barca will never change”, it read.
But even if Messi’s intentions are honest, how can he not be changed by this? His bitterness was obvious and his feelings clear.
If Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu had not stood in his way, Messi would be gone, perhaps now holding up a Manchester City shirt and doing kick-ups on the Etihad turf.
Instead, he has been forced to stay against his will and to remain part of a project he no longer believes in.
“I’m staying because the president said the only way to go was to pay the 700 million euro clause, which is impossible, or the other way was to go to court,” Messi said.
Ronald Koeman is trying to look to the future but Messi is still seething about the past. His first words about his new coach were hardly a ringing endorsement either.
“Now I don’t know what will happen,” he said. “There is a new coach and a new idea. That’s good but then we have to see how the team responds and if it will get us to compete or not.”
Koeman said he wanted Messi to be the cornerstone of his project at Camp Nou but he also said: “I only want players who want to be here.”
A happy and motivated Messi could have led the reform but, full of resentment and disappointment, his presence might become an obstacle.