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Lionel Messi in tears at farewell Barcelona press conference

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Lionel Messi in tears at farewell Barcelona press conference

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Lionel Messi fought back tears as he opened a news conference announcing his departure from Barcelona, the club where he has spent his entire career.

After more than two decades with the Catalan club, it was time to say goodbye.

As he got up to face the press at the start of his news conference, Messi appeared devastated, receiving a tissue from his wife as he received a wave of applause from everyone in the Camp Nou press room.

He told a news conference, “I’m so grateful for the love people have shown me these years.”

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to speak,” he said while trying to compose himself during his farewell news conference at the Camp Nou Stadium on Sunday. “It still hasn’t sunk in that I’m leaving this club, that my life will be changing completely. It will be a difficult change for me and especially for my family. But we have to accept it and move on.”

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“These recent days, I’ve been giving lots of thought about what I could say, and the truth is that I can’t think of anything,” Messi told a news conference as hundreds of fans, many wearing his number 10 jersey, massed outside Barca’s Camp Nou stadium to bid farewell to the player.

“This is really difficult for me after so many years, being here my entire life, I’m not ready for this and honestly last year with all the nonsense, I was convinced I knew what I wanted to say but this year is not the same.”

When questioned specifically about his future club, Messi declined to confirm that he is joining PSG, although he is likely to go to Paris in the coming days for a medical before signing a two-year deal with a third-year option.

Unlike last year, when he begged to go, Messi stated he was dead intent on sticking with Barcelona and did all he could to make it happen, including slashing his pay by half. He was taken aback when he learned he wouldn’t be able to continue due to the club’s debt and the Spanish league’s financial fair-play rules.

Messi, 34, has spent his entire career with Barcelona, rising through the ranks of the club’s academy before making his senior debut in 2003 and scoring 672 goals in 778 games.

“This year, my family and I were convinced we were going to stay at home, that’s what we all wanted more than anything,” he said.

“We’d always made this our own, we were at home. We thought we would be staying here in Barcelona. But today, we have to say goodbye to all of this.”

“I’ve been here so many years, my entire life since I was 13. After 21 years, I’m leaving with my wife, my three little Catalan-Argentine kids, and I can’t tell you we won’t come back because this is my home, and I promised my children that.

“I tried to behave with humility and respect, and I hope that is what remains of me when I leave the club.

“As long as I go on being competitive and as long as my body responds [I’ll carry on playing],” he added. “As long as I can, I will carry on competing.”

The sad farewell was attended by Messi’s family and some of his teammates at the Camp Nou. The audience cheered him on many occasions.

The six-time Ballon d’Or winner has been a free agent since July 1 after failing to reach an agreement on a contract extension before his previous Barcelona deal ended on June 30.

After the news conference, all 35 trophies he earned during his stint at the club were put out for what the club billed as a private picture session.

On Sunday, the sports daily L’Equipe claimed on its website that Messi was scheduled to fly to Paris later that day to finalize the agreement, with a medical checkup scheduled for Monday morning.

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