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Lionel Messi says it was inappropriate for Barcelona president Joan Laporta to say he could have played for free but has suggested he would have been willing to accept a bigger pay cut to stay at Camp Nou.

Messi, 34, accepted a salary reduction of 50% in the summer but Barca were still unable to register him with LaLiga due to their spending limit for the season being cut to €97 million, almost €300m less than last year.

Speaking in October after Messi had joined Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer, Laporta said he’d hoped right up until the last moment the Argentina forward would offer to play for free.

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“The truth is, as I explained when I left, I did everything possible to stay,” Messi told SPORT in an interview published on Monday.

“Never at any moment did they ask me to play for free. They asked me to reduce my salary by 50% and I did it without any problem. We were willing to help the club more. My desire and that of my family was to stay in Barcelona.

“No one asked me to play for free, but at the same time the president’s words were inappropriate. It hurt because I don’t think there was any need to say that.

“It’s like taking the ball from you and not accepting the responsibility or taking charge of things. That makes people think and generates doubts that I don’t think I deserve.”

A leak earlier this year revealed Messi’s final contact with Barca was worth a potential €555m over four years, although he didn’t earn that much in the end as it was dependent on bonuses. He also gave up part of his wage during the pandemic.

His gross annual salary, after loyalty bonuses and signing-on fees, was around €70m.

Messi had always maintained a good relationship with Laporta since breaking into Barca’s first team during his first spell as president, between 2003 and 2010. Laporta, in part, was re-elected in March because he boasted of being the candidate most likely to keep Messi, whose contract with Barca expired on June 30. 2020.

However, Messi says he has now not spoken with Laporta since leaving Barca in August. ESPN revealed at the time that the days leading up to Messi’s departure had taken their toll on the duo’s relationship.

Despite that, and his grievances with the previous president Josep Maria Bartomeu, Messi still loves the club and says it remains his plan to return to Barcelona in the future.

“I don’t know if I will [go back] when my contract expires in Paris,” he added. “But what is almost certain is that we’re going to return to live in Barcelona and our life will be there.

“I have always said that I would love to help the club and be useful. I would love to be a sporting director at some point. I don’t know if it will be in Barcelona or not. Or if it will be something else.

“If there’s the chance, I would like to go back and contribute what I can because it’s the club I love and I would love them to keep doing well, growing and being one of the best in the world.”

Messi, who scored 672 goals in 778 games for Barca, both of which are club records, has not had a straightforward start to life in Paris. He’s without a goal in five league games so far, although he has scored three times in three Champions League outings.

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