FC Barcelona's president has issued a statement on Lionel Messi's future, claiming the Argentine superstar will "never leave Barcelona" and could play for the club until he is 45 years old.
After graduating from the famous La Masia academy, Messi made his senior debut for the Spanish giants in 2004, and has played an integral part of the team's success ever since.
The 31-year-old's current contract with the LaLiga champions expires in 2021, after extending his deal in 2017 – a staggering €700 million (R11.4 billion) release clause was included, which was more than double his previous buyout clause of €300 million (R4.9 billion).
Messi, who netted his 600th goal for Barcelona in their 3-0 victory over Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday night, has only ever played for the Blaugrana at senior level, and club president Josep Maria Bartomeu does not expect that fact to change any time soon.
"We are talking to the family (about retirement), but it's very early to say," Bartomeu told The Guardian.
"He's a footballer. So we talk football. But he will stay here with us. He's a club man.
"I talk always about Pele, who was always associated with Santos, the only place he played.
"Leo belongs to world football, but he has always lived at Barca. He will be a one-club man.
"Leo will never leave. He'll stop playing, but he'll always be with us. He might even play until he's 45, who knows?
"We know he'll play three, four, five years more, we don’t know how many – as many as he wants," he added.
Despite his sentiments, though, Barca's president also insisted that the club has already begun preparing for life without Messi, citing a number of their newly-acquired stars.
"We're preparing: players like (Ousmane) Dembele, (Clement) Lenglet, Arthur are there to build a team for when Messi stops playing, but I still see it as a long way off," Bartomeu added.
"I don't think that day is near. And we tell the players who play and train with him: 'Make the most of every minute.'"
Messi, who is the leading goalscorer across Europe's top five leagues, has made 46 appearances in all competitions for Barca this season, scoring 48 times and registering 22 assists.
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