By Rodrigo Orihuela
Lionel Messi has written a clause into his contract with FC Barcelona allowing him to leave the team if Catalan independence means he can’t play top-league soccer.
Under the agreement the Argentine star signed in November, he links his commitment in the event of independence to Barcelona playing in a top European league, his father Jorge Messi told La Red radio in Argentina.
Messi’s insistence on a get-out clause in case Catalan secession means he can’t compete in major-league sport is the latest symbolic twist to emerge from the region’s independence push.
An attempt by the regional parliament to declare independence in October drove Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to sack the Catalan government and call elections as hundreds of companies moved their legal headquarters to other parts of Spain. As pro-independence parties won enough seats in the vote held Dec. 21 to be able to form a new regional government, Rajoy insists he will never allow the region to split from Spain.
With its slogan “More Than a Club,” Barcelona sees itself as a guardian of Catalan values and identity. Soccer teams rarely play in a league outside their own country, although exceptions exist, such as AS Monaco FC from the principality on the Mediterranean coast which competes in France’s Ligue 1.
Five-time European champion Barcelona would face limited competition were it to play in a league formed solely of Catalan teams, even though the region does have two other sides — Espanyol and Girona — in Spain’s first division, which the club currently leads. Spain’s La Liga is one of the world’s top leagues alongside those of Germany, the U.K., Italy and France.
Messi, named the world’s top soccer player five times, has a long relationship with Barcelona, the only team he has played for professionally. Now aged 30, he joined the club as a young teenager after Barcelona committed to pay for treatment for a health issue that restricted his growth.
Messi signed his contract on Nov. 25 linking him to the club through 2021, with a buyout clause set at 700 million euros ($840 million). He is Barcelona’s all-time leading scorer.
A spokesman for Barcelona declined to comment in an emailed response. News on Messi’s contract clause was reported earlier by newspaper El Mundo.
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