Lionel Messi’s contract situation with FC Barcelona was up in the air since the beginning of July, as he technically became a free agent. Fans were quietly confident about his chances of re-signing, but shocking developments on Thursday night led to the club releasing an official statement confirming the Argentine star’s exit after nearly two decades with the Blaugrana.

 

As Barca fans come to terms with an uncertain future without Messi, some of them now demand the club to at least retire the famous Number 10 jersey that the six-time Ballon d’Or winner has donned during his famous triumphs in club football. Messi scored more than 650 goals for Barcelona across almost 800 games, winning 35 trophies en route.

 

But the possibility of these wishes coming true is slim, due to La Liga regulations. The Spanish league stipulates that numbers 1 to 25 be assigned to first-team members, and higher numbers assigned to youth players. So if you ditch a number 25 or under, it could mean one less senior player in the squad.

In the past, Barcelona has witnessed the exits of other legendary superstars such as Ronaldinho, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Johan Cruyff, but none of their jerseys were retired.

Even Cristiano Ronaldo’s iconic number 7 was passed on to Mariano and eventually Eden Hazard, after he left Real Madrid.

 

But Messi’s case might be a touch more sentimental. He joined Barcelona at the age of 13 after the club agreed to support the treatment of his Growth Hormone Syndrome. After initially struggling to cope with his first move outside Argentina, Leo eventually became part of the most decorated youth team in the history of Spanish football.

At Barcelona’s youth academy La Masia, he befriended the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique, both of whom decided to move to England to pursue senior careers after earning accolades at the youth-level. But Messi stayed back and finally broke into Barca’s first team.

His rapid progression through club ranks resulted in a senior debut at the age of 16. Barcelona’s Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho was among the first ones to recognise Messi’s potential and helped ease his transition into elite club football.

 

The Argentine fulfilled all prophecies in the years to come and became arguably the greatest footballer of all time. “He holds all of the main records in FC Barcelona history. He has the most appearances for the team. He he scored the most goals, He has won the most wins. And, most important of all, he has won the most titles in the club’s 121-year history,” said the club in a recent statement.

It’s not about just club records he has set, but the legacy that he leaves behind. With or without the retired number 10, here’s raising a toast to the good memories and wishing him all the best on his next adventure.

Image credits: Twitter/ESPNFC, BleacherReport