Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu is "convinced" Lionel Messi will remain at the Camp Nou despite having a clause in his contract that allows him to leave for free at the end of the season.
Bartomeu told Barca TV (h/t Marca's Alejandro Segura) that he has no doubts about the Argentinian's loyalty to the Catalan giants and expects him to stay at the club beyond 2021, when his contract expires:
"He has a contract that we signed two years ago. For the last year, he can leave Barcelona before the start of the 2020/21 season. It's something that other players like Xavi, [Andres] Iniesta and [Carles] Puyol have had in their contracts. But I'm relaxed, Leo is so [loyal to] Barcelona that he's not going to play for another club and it will stay that way beyond 2021 when his contract expires."
Messi arrived at Barcelona as a 13-year-old from Argentina and has gone on to establish himself as one of the greats of the game during his time at the Camp Nou.
The forward has helped Barcelona dominate La Liga and has won the Spanish title 10 times in his career. He has also claimed victory in the UEFA Champions League four times and been awarded the Ballon d'Or on five occasions.
Messi signed his latest contract extension with Barcelona in 2017. The deal runs until 2021 and contains a buyout clause of €700 million:
The agreement also contains a clause that allows him to leave for free at the end of every season. However, it only allows him to depart for clubs outside Europe, according to Cadena Ser's Carrusel (h/t Ben Hayward at the Evening Standard).
Messi once told TyC Sports (h/t Allan Valente at Sky Sports) that he would like to return to Argentina and play for boyhood club Newell's Old Boys before he retires but was unsure whether the move would be possible.
The Barcelona captain has also spoken of his desire to finish his career at Barcelona:
The escape clause in Messi's contract may be viewed as a surprise, but team-mate Gerard Pique said he was aware of its existence when talking to Cadena Ser recently (h/t Samuel Marsden at ESPN FC): "I already knew Messi is able to leave for free at the end of each season. But we all know the commitment Leo has to Barca, and it doesn't worry me at all. He's earned the right to be able to choose what he does with his future after everything he's given the club."
Messi remains Barcelona's most important player and is vital to their hopes of success despite turning 32 in June. He racked up 36 goals last season to clinch the European Golden Shoe for a sixth time.
There is no suggestion that Messi will look to move away from Barcelona in the near future, and Bartomeu is expected to offer the captain a new contract to secure his immediate future.