Messi asked to leave Barca after 20 years in the summer having grown disillusioned with Bartomeu’s running of the club and the impact that has had on the team’s ability to compete at the highest level.

Pique said he reminded the Argentinian that Bartomeu would be gone after the presidential elections at the club in March: “I didn’t have much to do with Leo during that moment because it was a very personal decision. I remember one message I sent: ‘Leo, it’s one year, then new people will come in…’”

Bartomeu’s tenure could be over even sooner, as a referendum on his future is set to be held in November after 20,687 club members gave a vote of no confidence in his presidency.

Messi eventually decided to see out the final year of his contract at the Camp Nou after being told by Bartomeu that he’d only be able to leave in the summer if another club met his €700 million ($829 million) release clause.

The forward said Bartomeu had told him in the past he was free to leave the club at the end of the season provided he informed them before June 10.

However, a dispute arose over the date of his transfer request – which came in August after the season was interrupted by the pandemic – and he did not wish to take Barcelona to court.

Pique said a player of Messi’s stature should have been treated better by the club.

“Leo more than earned the right to make a decision and if he felt he should leave… as president I would have acted differently. A player that’s given so much in 16 years, you’re obliged to reach an agreement with him.

“It can’t be so evident that the two parties are so distanced from each other.

“How can it be that the best player in history gets up one day and sends a burofax because he feels he’s not being listened to? What’s happening?

“Leo deserves the lot. The new stadium should be named after him. We have to preserve our figures, not smear them.”

The six-time Ballon d’Or winner has spent his entire career at the Camp Nou, where he has played a key role in the club winning 34 trophies, including 10 La Liga titles, four UEFA Champions League titles and six Copas del Rey.

Messi is the club’s record goalscorer with 636 in 736 games, and he’s also laid on 280 assists. 

He’s now in the final year of his contract at the club, so unless Bartomeu’s replacement can convince him to sign a new deal in the coming months he’ll leave next summer for free.

If he makes 31 more appearances by then, he’ll equal Xavi Hernandez as the club’s record appearance-maker.

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