A boy wearing a shirt with the name of Barcelona soccer player Lionel Messi runs on a park in Banyoles, in Girona province, Spain on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. Lionel Messi's future at Barcelona looked no closer to being resolved after the first meeting between the player's father and club officials on Wednesday ended without an agreement, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
View All (4)

Lionel Messi’s father sent a letter to the Spanish league on Friday saying his son is free to leave Barcelona immediately without having to pay the 700 million euro ($837 million) buyout clause.

The letter comes a few days after the league said Messi was still under contract until June 2021 and could not leave without paying the penalty.

In the letter, which was seen by The Associated Press, Jorge Messi disputed that and said the contract allows his son to leave for free at the end of the season, which this year was pushed back by the coronavirus pandemic.

Lionel Messi invoked the clause to leave last week, shortly after the team’s humiliating 8-2 loss Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals.

Barcelona claims the clause expired on June 10 and told Messi he had to stay until the end of his contract or pay the buyout clause.

The letter by Jorge Messi, who is also Messi’s agent, was sent two days after there was no agreement in a meeting between him and Barcelona club president Josep Bartomeu.

Besides the uncertainty over the future of Messi, Barcelona is still mired in crisis three weeks after the loss to Bayern Munich on Aug. 14. And there are few signs that the club is close to getting back on track a few weeks from the start of the new season.

The club’s immediate focus has been on trying to get Messi to change his mind about leaving. Bartomeu and incoming coach Ronald Koeman said the team’s restructuring project revolved around the Argentine forward, so convincing him to stay is key to helping lift the club out of one of its worst crises ever.

If Messi doesn't change his mind, a lengthy legal battle could ensue, further hurting Barcelona’s restructuring process. The club will start its season against Villarreal in the Spanish league at the end of the month.

It also remained unclear what would happen to the rest of the squad after “profound” changes to the first team were announced by Bartomeu and Koeman.

Koeman said he wouldn't count on some key players anymore, including Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal and Luis Suárez, a longtime Messi friend and possibly one of the reasons why he asked to leave. But so far only Rakitic has left to rejoin Sevilla, while the others continue to train normally along with the rest of the squad.

Antoine Griezmann, who struggled in his first season since joining from Atlético Madrid, could end up with greater responsibility along with veterans Gerard Piqué and Sergio Busquets — if they also stay. Youngsters Ousmane Dembele, Ansu Fati, Riqui Puig and newly signed Francisco Trincão could end up having bigger roles as well.

There is talk about Koeman wanting to bring in new players such as Lautaro Martínez, Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum, but their transfers could ultimately also depend on what happens to Messi. His departure could save a lot of salary money, but if it’s a free transfer it could end up hurting the team’s finances.

Bartomeu has been under pressure recently and Messi has been an outspoken critic of some of the club’s decisions during the season, its first without a title since 2007-08. The season included a coaching change and exchange of public accusations between players and some club directors. New elections have been called for next March, and Bartomeu offered to resign if he was the reason Messi wanted to lave.

But so far no word from Messi on anything, and as he keeps quiet, Barcelona keeps reeling.

___

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

___

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni