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FOOTBALL

Messi pulls no show at Barça pre-season Covid testing

Lionel Messi was not seen attending Barcelona's training ground for coronavirus tests on Sunday morning, raising the possibility he will boycott pre-season to force his way out of the club.

Messi pulls no show at Barça pre-season Covid testing
A child wearing Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi's jersey sits on the pavement waiting for the arrival of Barcelona players to undergo a COVID-19 test. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP
But La Liga have given a boost to Barca's hopes of keeping Messi by announcing that the release clause in his contract, set at 700 million euros ($833 million), still applies.
   
Messi and his lawyers believe a separate clause means he should be allowed to leave for free this summer.
   
Without passing a coronavirus test, Messi will be unable to join team-mates for Ronald Koeman's first training session on Monday, with the start of the new La Liga season less than two weeks away.
   
Messi was due for testing at 10.15am on Sunday but according to sources at Barcelona, he failed to show up at the Ciutat Esportiva.
   
The club's captain and greatest ever player could now be punished with a fine and even a reduction in salary if the strike continues.   
 
 
Suarez, Vidal present
 
Luis Suarez – his best friend and strike partner – and Arturo Vidal were among those seen arriving for tests, despite both players being told they should find new teams as part of a planned clear-out this summer.
   
The meet-up was a chance for Messi to make his first public appearance since the burofax stating his intention to leave arrived in the offices of Camp Nou on Tuesday evening.
   
Instead, his absence offers a clear indication of his determination to secure a move and how ugly this dispute could now become.
   
Taking part in the team's pre-season programme could damage his legal case if his departure ends up being settled in court.
   
Barcelona insist a clause included in Messi's contract that allowed him to go for free this summer had to be activated by June 10 and the only way the 33-year-old will be allowed to depart now is via the payment of 700 million euros.
   
La Liga, who were always likely to take the side of the club, agree that Messi's release clause is still valid.
   
“The contract is currently in force and has a 'termination clause' applicable if Lionel Andres Messi decides to activate the early unilateral termination of the contract,” La Liga said in a statement.
 
“In compliance with the regulations and procedure in these cases, La Liga will not de-register the player from the (Spanish football) federation unless they have previously paid the amount of said clause.”
   
Yet Messi's lawyers believe the clause that allows him to leave for free refers not to a specific date but to 10 days after the end of the season. Given last season was extended into August due to the pandemic, with the
Champions League final only played last weekend, they maintain Messi's request to leave came within the agreed period.
   
His absence on Sunday suggests he is prepared to do whatever it takes to quit the club he joined as 13-year-old boy, and where most expected him to continue all the way through to retirement.
 
 
Supporters still hoping 
 
Supporters, some of whom stormed Camp Nou in protest last week, remain hopeful Messi might still be persuaded.
   
Outside the training ground on Sunday morning, a young boy wearing a Messi shirt sat with his head in his hands, hoping his hero could yet return.
   
Mundo Deportivo, the Barcelona daily with close links to the board, wrote on Saturday how the club is defiant, even if every stance now could be a negotiating ploy.
   
“The more the days go by, the firmer the board and president Josep Maria Bartomeu are in not moving from their position,” it read. “Which is not to sell and, if possible, to renew the contract of Messi.”
   
Bartomeu made it known through the Spanish press on Thursday that he would resign if Messi said publicly that he was the problem and agreed to change his mind.
   
But Messi has remained steadfast. His snub on Sunday comes after he asked for a meeting, not to negotiate, but to begin facilitating an amicable and dignified departure.
   
Manchester City remain favourites to sign the 33-year-old, whose basic salary alone amounts to around 60 million euros.
   
If Barcelona and Messi decide to avoid a lengthy legal process, a compromise selling price of around 100 million euros could be within reach for City, while eliminating their less wealthy rivals.
   
Messi has reportedly spoken to City coach Pep Guardiola already but others remain in the running, including Paris Saint-Germain, Inter Milan and Juventus.

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FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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