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Soccer Star Lionel Messi Is Leaving FC Barcelona After 17 Seasons

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have huge news from the soccer world - or as the rest of the world calls it, football. Lionel Messi is leaving the Spanish soccer club FC Barcelona. He threatened to leave last year. And now he really can because he's a free agent. Yesterday's news of Messi's departure stunned the soccer world. Andrea Canales, a contributing writer for Soccer America, says Messi is arguably the greatest player of his generation.

ANDREA CANALES: Messi would kind of be their Kobe, a player that joined the club when he was very young, developed through them, was there for some of the most iconic moments. It really is kind of the end of an era. Like, Kobe stayed with the Lakers his entire career. Most everybody expected the same thing to happen with Messi. And now that it's not going to, it's sending absolute shockwaves across the soccer world.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

And she's right. Lionel Messi has provided fans with some of the greatest moments in Barcelona history.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: This man is just unstoppable.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTINEZ: Together with Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, who once played for arch rival Real Madrid, the 34-year-old Messi has been the face of global soccer for more than a decade. Messi left his home country of Argentina at the age of 13 to join Barcelona's famed Youth Academy. He had his first team debut at 16.

INSKEEP: And since then, he and Barcelona have put their stamp on European soccer, winning a total of 37 titles with the club, including winning the Spanish League 10 times and four Champions League titles. Messi scored 672 goals. If you don't follow soccer, that's a lot. He was voted the best player in the world six times. But everything must come to an end.

CANALES: The negotiations for the new contract that they were working on and that looked good - they had something kind of verbally agreed upon - had broken down. And they say they have to part ways with their biggest-probably-ever player.

MARTINEZ: The club spent nearly 600 million bucks in player salaries last year. And the Spanish League enforced a salary cap, ordering Barcelona's spending to be cut by almost half. So they told Messi they could not sign him.

INSKEEP: Where does he go next? Some American soccer fans dream of him coming to Major League Soccer here. And he has said he would like to live in the United States someday.

(SOUNDBITE OF POKEY LAFARGE'S "GOODBYE, BARCELONA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.