No sign of Lionel Messi as Barcelona stars report for Covid-19 testing - in pictures

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Barcelona players and staff reported to the club's training headquarters on Sunday, but there was no sign of star player Lionel Messi.

Barca's greatest ever player was due at the Ciutat Esportiva on Sunday morning for coronavirus tests, which must be taken and passed if he is to join Ronald Koeman's first pre-season session on Monday.

And while the likes of Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique - Messi's teammates who face their own uncertain futures at Camp Nou - Barcelona fans' worst fears seemed to be confirmed with the Argentine's no show.

Messi's absence is his first public demonstration since the burofax that stated his intention to leave for free arrived in the offices of Camp Nou on Tuesday evening and shocked the world of football.

Barcelona's newly-appointed sporting director Ramon Planes said on Wednesday the expectation was Messi would be present on Sunday for testing and then training on Monday as usual.

But while Messi was initially inclined to comply and avoid escalating tensions further, his lawyers have since advised him to stay away, Catalunya Radio were reporting on Saturday.

With the new La Liga season set to start on September 12, it is believed Messi's legal representatives have advised that taking part in the team's pre-season programme could damage his legal case if his departure ends up being settled in court.

Messi believes a clause in his contract allows him to walk away for free so long as he communicates that decision. Barcelona believe the deadline for that clause to be applied has expired, as he had to inform them of his decision before June 10.

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10 potential destinations for Messi

MANCHESTER CITY: Relations between Lionel Messi and Barcelona are at an all time low following the club's record scorer submitting a request by fax stating he wishes to leave - on a free transfer. According to reports, an initial meeting between new coach Ronald Koeman and Messi did not go well, with the Dutchman telling the Argentine his privileges at the club where revoked. A reunion with former Barca mentor Pep Guardiola at City would seem an ideal fit, with the club's Abu Dhabi owners able to match both Messi's wage demands and his ambitions. The man with more than 700 goals to his name could be the missing piece of the puzzle that takes City to Champions League glory. EPA

ARGENTINA: The romantic option would be for Messi to head back to Argentina and rejoin his hometown club in Rosario, Newell's Old Boys. Messi has regularly stated he would ideally love to play for his boyhood club Newell's again before he retires but has also added that security concerns over the safety of his three young children would leave him reluctant to make that move in the current climate. EPA

ITALY: Despite their domestic dominance, Juventus again came up short in their quest for their own Holy Grail in the Champions League. While no one doubts Cristiano Ronaldo has been a success in Turin, the club are reportedly touting him to European rivals including Barcelona. Is there a parallel universe where Ronaldo and Messi swap clubs, and could it become a reality? AP Photo

FRANCE: Neymar left Barcelona in 2017 determined to step out of Messi's shadow and prove he could be the best player on the planet. The Brazilian came close to a move back to Camp Nou in the summer of 2019, with Messi said to be pushing for his fellow attacker's return, before the move broke down. Could Messi and Neymar be reunited in Paris? Or will PSG jettison their Neymar experiment to lure Messi? The French champions are one of few clubs who can match the Argentine's exorbitant wage demands, but will the challenge of Ligue 1 excite him? AFP

PREMIER LEAGUE: Messi is known to be a big fan of the Premier League, and national television network Cuatro claimed on Tuesday that Manchester United are making a serious attempt to lure the Argentine to Old Trafford. While Messi and his representatives believe he is entitled to a free transfer, the Spanish giants say that detail of his contract expired at the end of May and that they are holding him to his €700 million release clause. While no club is likely to trigger that, horse trading of several young players - Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford or Paul Pogba spring to mind - could bring Barca to the negotiating table. AFP

SERIE A: Inter Milan are desperate to end Juventus' iron grip on the scudetto and club president Steven Zhang has reportedly already held talks with Messi's representatives even before the Argentine faxed in a transfer request on Tuesday. Several reports indicate that, should Messi move to San Siro, Lautaro Martinez, Inter's own Argentina international who at 23 is 10 years Messi's junior, will make the opposite move to Camp Nou. AFP

MLS: Every club on the planet would love to have Messi if they had the finances, but few have the clout. If a move to Major League Soccer is considered then linking up with David Beckham's new Inter Miami FC franchise would seem a good fit. AFP

QATAR: Barcelona legend Xavi has advised the board to do 'all they can to make Messi happy', which seems to have been roundly ignored. The former Barca midfielder, who acted as supplier in chief for a good few Messi goals during their time as teammates, distanced himself from the coach's job following Quique Setien's sacking, perhaps anticipating the malaise that was to follow. Now in charge of Qatari club Al Sadd, the lure of playing under Xavi - perhaps with a long-term view of following him back to Catalunya one day - could come into Messi's thinking. AFP

JAPAN: Former Barcelona teammates Andreas Iniesta and Sergi Samper are already on the books at Japan's Vissel Kobe and a move to the J-League could appeal to Messi as he looks to wind down his career. Reuters

CHINA: For a man whose annual salary is a reported £26 million, money may not be the motivating factor in any move for Messi. If he were to follow the well-trodden path of European and South American players and head to the Chinese Super League, it's probably fair to say he won't be taking a hit in the pocket. AFP

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However, given the extraordinary circumstances of the 2019/20 season dealing with an unprecedented shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Messi’s camp argue that the extended campaign officially ended after last Sunday's Champions League final, are set to argue that the 10-day deadline should be set on August 31.

Barca believe the law is on their side, and have told the player any club wishing to negotiate must first meet his €700 million (Dh3.039 billion) buyout clause.

His contract at Camp Nou expires on June 30, 2021.

Mundo Deportivo, the Barcelona daily with close links to the board, wrote on Saturday how the club is adamant the Argentine - the club's record scorer and most decorated player in history - will remain.

"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."

Yet every stance is arguably now a negotiating ploy and Messi's return on Sunday might only offer false hope to the fans.

Barca fans staged protests outside Camp Nou last week, demanding the resignation of Bartomeu whom they blame for the malaise surrounding the club.

Bartomeu has made it known in the Spanish press that he would resign if Messi said publicly that he was the problem and agreed to change his mind.

But Messi has instead asked for a meeting, not to negotiate, but to begin facilitating an amicable and dignified departure.

"Messi's decision to leave Barca irreversible," read a Diario Sport headline on Saturday.

Manchester City remain favourites to sign the 33-year-old, with many of Messi's compatriots at home telling reporters of their desire to see the country's all-time top scorer reunite with former mentor Pep Guardiola and Argentina teammate Sergio Aguero.

Updated: August 30, 2020 12:55 PM

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