Messi earned the right to leave Barcelona – Pique hits out at Bartomeu for poor handling of transfer saga

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Lionel Messi earned the right to leave Barcelona at the end of last season, according to Gerard Pique, who has hit out at president Josep Maria Bartomeu and defended signing a new contract in an explosive interview.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi stunned the world in August when he told Barca of his intention to leave the club he has spent two decades with.

He intended to trigger a clause in his contract to walk away on a free transfer, but the validity of such a stipulation was murky due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The saga was brought to a temporary end on September 4 when the forward announced he will stay at Camp Nou for another year, rather than challenge Barca in a legal battle.

But Pique feels the club handled the situation the wrong way, with Bartomeu allegedly backtracking on a promise to let Messi leave whenever he felt the time was right.

"I didn't have much contact with him around that time because it was a very personal decision," he told La Vanguardia ahead of Barca's Clasico clash with Real Madrid on Saturday.

"But I remember saying: 'Leo, it's one year, and then new people will come in'.

"He had more than earned the right to make a decision and if he considered that he should go... I as president would have acted differently.

"A player who for 16 years has given you so much. You are obliged to come to an agreement with him. It cannot be so obvious that the two parties are so far apart.

"How can it be that the best player in history, who we have the luck to enjoy, gets up one day and send a burofax because he feel they are not listening to him?

"Everything is too shocking. What is going on? Leo deserves everything. The new stadium should have his name and then that of the sponsor. 

"We should preserve our figures, not discredit them. It makes me nervous."

Pique also criticised Barca's "outrageous" decision to allegedly hire a social media company to damage the reputations of certain key figures, including himself and Messi.

"As a Barca player, I see that my club as spent money to criticise us – not only people outside the club, but also those who are still playing. That is outrageous," he said, with the club having denied the claims.

"I asked for an explanation and [Bartomeu] told me: 'Gerard, I didn't know'. I believed it, but then you see the person in charge of hiring those services is still at the club.

"It hurts a lot. I say that because I personally told the president before. What else can I say? Is it painful? Yes. Can I do something else? Well, no.

"My relationship with the president is cordial but there are certain things that remain."

Pique this week penned a new four-year contract, which has reportedly caused a dressing-room split as a number of players – including the defender – are said to have signed a letter saying they will not negotiate with the current board.

Asked about his decision to renew, and whether he considered departing Catalonia, Pique said: "If the coach didn't depend on me, I'd have had no problem [leaving].

"The club told me and other players that due to the pandemic they will suffer a lot financially. In that situation, Barca is not above anyone. 

"Barca have given me everything, so I put myself at their disposal. They tell me all the money I can give up this year will be collected in the future.

"I think we are helping the club. The pay may be bigger in the future but for there to be a future we must act like this.

"In a personal capacity, each player is free to accept the club's proposal voluntarily. 

"Another thing is that they force you unilaterally and that they do it with the ways that they have done it. There, the truth is, I totally disagree."