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Messi. Image Credit: AP

Spanish newspaper El Mundo has leaked a copy of Lionel Messi’s contract with Barcelona, that shows him paid a maximum of €555 million — the biggest known deal in sports history.

The historic contract, which hinged on certain conditions being met, was agreed upon in November 2017, and is set to expire June 30 this year, after which Messi will depart from the club — after more than 16 years — if there’s no deal to extend the contract.

Messi and Barcelona are now reportedly taking legal action against the newspaper and any Barca personnel who were involved in the leak.

Messi. Image Credit: Reuters

The incident could intensify the fractured relationship between Messi and the club.

Messi expressed his desire to leave the club last season but was stopped by president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Bartomeu is also denying any involvement with leaking the contract.

Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu (L) and Rakuten's President and CEO Hiroshi Mikitani pose with a jersey after signing a contract. Image Credit: Reuters

“It’s totally false that I leaked this contract. It’s a very serious matter and it’s totally illegal to leak professional contracts. Talking on TV and accusing is easy, but we’re not kidding because this will end up in court. By the way, Leo deserves everything he earns for both sporting and commercial reasons, and without a pandemic, Barca can pay these figures perfectly,” said Bartomeu on TV3.

There are only four copies of the contract, according to reports — one with Messi, one with Barcelona, one with La Liga and the final with Cuatrecasas, Messi’s legal firm of choice.

Barcelona has “categorically” denied leaking the contract themselves, in a new statement.

“In view of the information published today in the newspaper El Mundo, in relation to the professional contract signed between FC Barcelona and the player Lionel Messi, the club regrets its publication given that it is a private document governed by the principle of confidentiality between the parties,” reads the statement.

“FC Barcelona categorically denies any responsibility for the publication of this document, and will take appropriate legal action against the newspaper El Mundo, for any damage that may be caused as a result of this publication.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi looks dejected at Atletico Madrid celebrate. Image Credit: AFP

“FC Barcelona expresses its absolute support for Lionel Messi, especially in the face of any attempt to discredit his image, and to damage his relationship with the entity where he has worked to become the best player in the world and in football history.”

Messi made no attempt to hide his displeasure with Barcelona after the club refused to let him leave at the end of last season.

The 33-year-old striker called the club’s management and Bartomeu himself a “disaster”.

In January, Messi picked up his first red card in 753 games for Barcelona. Some viewed it at Messi giving up his patience at the club.

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Barcelona's Lionel Messi is shown a red card by referee Jesus Gil Manzano. Image Credit: Reuters

Prior to that, Messi only picked up two red cards for Argentina, as the level-headed footballer has kept a fairly squeaky reputation on and off the pitch.

Football fans were divided over the contract leak and what is perceived as a smear campaign against the Argentine icon.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Messi just retires tbh. It actually might not be worth ruining his reputation with Barca anymore,” one Twitter user wrote.

Meanwhile, Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman has come out in support of his player and called for whoever is behind the leak to be sacked from the club.

“Whoever has leaked Messi’s contract cannot have a future at Barcelona. What has come out in the press about Messi was done malicously,” he said.

Lionel Messi with Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman
Lionel Messi with Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman Image Credit: AFP

“Whoever published this had bad intentions and wanted to cause Barca damage. But we have to be united and focused, we have to forget about whatever has been published,” he added.

“Without Leo we couldn’t aspire to win very much. We have known for a very long time that he is the best player in the world, he has done so much for this club and is decisive. We have to respect everything Messi has done. If this was someone from the club they cannot have a future here.”