Lineker leads tributes to Messi as Barca exit becomes reality

Barcelona (AFP) –


As Barcelona reeled from the reality that Lionel Messi really is leaving after 17 stellar years of trophy-laden success, former Barcelona and England star Gary Lineker was quick to salute the Argentinian's legacy.

"So sad watching a clearly very emotional Lionel Messi having to say goodbye to @FCBarcelona," tweeted Lineker, who spent three seasons with the Catalan giants in the late 1980s, winning a Spanish Cup and a Cup Winners Cup.

"No player in the history of the sport has given so much joy, so many unforgettable moments, so much success to one club," said Lineker of Messi, who won 35 trophies including 10 league titles and four Champions Leagues.

In the immediate aftermath of Messi's address little reaction emerged in the Catalan metropolis as shocked fans, who turned out in their thousands to bid farewell at the Camp Nou, drank in the news that what they had feared really was happening.

The club itself posted on its Twitter feed a picture of Messi surrounded by replicas of the trophies he has won with the single word: Unrepeatable.

Coach Ronald Koeman, whose goal won the club their first European Cup in 1992, tweeted Saturday that for him it was "still hard to understand that you will not play for @FCBarcelona anymore," while saluting Messi's work ethic.

Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong tweeted late Saturday that "when I was a child I enjoyed watching all your games with my brother on TV in our room.

There have been many warm tributes Lionel Messi who has announced his exit from Barcelona
There have been many warm tributes Lionel Messi who has announced his exit from Barcelona LLUIS GENE AFP/File

"When I came here two years ago I discovered you are an incredible person. It has been a dream to play alongside the best player in history," said de Jong.

Barcelona's former midfield general Andres Iniesta looked back on 14 years of often "magical moments" but added "imagining the club without you or seeing you at the Camp Nou in another shirt" would be very hard.