BARCELONA (Reuters) - Lionel Messi is not about to leave Barcelona despite taking his time to sign a new contract with the Liga side, teammate Gerard Pique said on Thursday, saying that the Argentine “loves the club more than anybody”.
The five-times world player of the year and Barca’s all-time leading goalscorer agreed a bumper new deal with the club on July 5 until 2021, which included a buy-out clause of 300 million euros ($354 million), although he has not yet signed the agreement.
Until Messi puts pen to paper on the deal he could be plucked from Barca if a club pays his current release clause, set at 250 million euros, as Paris St Germain did in signing Neymar for a world record fee of 222 million euros.
The 30-year-old could even agree to leave the club for free as early as January, as his current contract expires in June of next year.
Messi’s delay in signing the new deal more than six weeks after agreeing terms has sparked panic among Barca fans, with it being taken as a sign of discontent after the departure of his strike partner Neymar and the club’s failure to bolster their squad so far.
Pique, however, said he is unconcerned by the delay.
“Everyone has the right to sign when they want, and we hope he signs it as soon as possible but I’m not worried at all about his contract, because I know him and I know what he’s like,” Pique told reporters at a publicity event for Pokerstars on Thursday.
“He loves the club more than anybody else.”
Pique also said there was no mutiny between the Barca squad and the club’s hierarchy over the manner of Neymar’s departure and the subsequent fallout, in which the club has revealed plans to sue the Brazilian for breach of contract.
Hours after the announcement, Pique, Messi and Luis Suarez posted photos on social media with Neymar on his return to the city, which has been reported in the Spanish media as an affront against the board.
“It was a coincidence, a normal photo. Neymar is a former team mate but also a friend. If we wanted to send a message to the board we would have sat down with them in private,” Pique said.
“Everything has been taken out of context. We aren’t angry with the club and there’s no lack of communication. I said it before: we need to come together, the club is doing the best it can (to sign new players). Until the transfer window closes we have to trust them and see what happens.”
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Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Christian Radnedge