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What is Lionel Messi's contract clause and how much would he cost if Barcelona sold him?

It is difficult to imagine Lionel Messi playing for a club other than Barcelona, with rumours that the Argentine's time in Catalunya was coming to an end intensifying over the summer - but the superstar has now reversed his decision following difficulty breaking out of his contract.

This was fuelled by the fact that Barca have endured a truly dismal season, one which saw the club miss out on La Liga glory before being dumped ignominiously out of the Champions League.

Off-field issues related to club politics had not helped matters, with Messi being uncharacteristically vocal about pronouncements that have been made by some sporting directors.

Goal takes a look at the forward's contract clause. 

What is Lionel Messi's release clause?

Lionel Messi's contract buyout clause (or release clause) is €700 million (£630m/$825m). The hefty clause was put in place when Messi signed a new four-year contract with Barcelona in 2017. That deal expires in 2021.

Prior to that, Messi's buyout clause was €300 million (£270m/$355m), and the increased figure was arrived at after Paris Saint-Germain forked out €222 million (£198m/$262m) to trigger Neymar's release.

Messi and his legal team had believed the clause would allow him to terminate his deal unilaterally – allowing him to leave for free before it ends.

Barca looked to be sure to challenge Messi's assertion that he could unilaterally opt out of his deal, saying the clause expired in June. Messi's legal team, meanwhile, was set to argue that the clause was in place through the end of the season, which had been extended due to the coronavirus break.

But Messi eventually stated that he did not wish to take his beloved club to court in an exclusive interview with Goal, prompting him to stay at Camp Nou for at least the 2020-21 season.

“I thought and was sure that I was free to leave, the president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I stayed or not,” Messi told Goal.

“Now they cling to the fact that I did not say it before June 10, when it turns out that on June 10 we were competing for La Liga in the middle of this awful coronavirus and this disease altered all the season.

“And this is the reason why I am going to continue in the club. Now I am going to continue in the club because the president told me that the only way to leave was to pay the €700m clause, and that this is impossible.”

Which clubs could sign Lionel Messi?

While most clubs in the world would like to sign Lionel Messi, only a select few would realistically be able to afford him. Even if Messi left Barca on a free, his wages at any new club would require deep pockets.

Manchester City, Inter and PSG are the main clubs touted as potential destinations for Messi.

The fact that Pep Guardiola, who worked with Messi during his time at Camp Nou, is managing City is seen as a major plus for the Premier League side, with one pundit suggesting Messi was like Guardiola's son.

Inter, meanwhile, have consistently indicated their intention to bring the Argentine to San Siro and former Nerazzurri director Massimo Mirabelli has suggested that it is very much a possibility.

“I can assure you that Messi is more than a dream for Inter," Mirabelli told Radio Sportiva. "He now has only a year left on his contract and Barca don’t want to risk losing him for free next summer."

Despite the speculation linking Messi away from the club, however, new Barca boss Ronald Koeman is hopeful of convincing the talisman to remain at Camp Nou.

"It’s up to me to find a way we get the best out of Messi, that he’s happy here and that he feels important," Koeman told NOS. "He’s the captain and he should end his career at Barcelona. Messi is Barcelona and Barcelona is Messi.”  

What is a buyout or release clause?

In football, a buyout clause - sometimes referred to as a release clause - is a clause in a footballer's contract which indicates a transfer asking price that, if met in a bid, must be accepted by a club.

The fee is usually set considerably higher than a player's perceived market value in order to act as a deterrent to potential bidders, but can sometimes be relatively low in order to encourage bidders.

Buyout clauses have been mandatory aspects of footballers' contracts in Spain since 1985.