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Lionel Messi delays Barcelona return amid contract negotiations

Lionel Messi has still not returned to training with Barcelona as the wait for him to sign his new contract with the club goes on.

Barca’s first-team squad remain in Germany, where they have been based for the last week, ahead of Wednesday’s friendly against FC Salzburg.

Excluding injured players and the trio involved in the Olympic Games, the only members of the squad not involved in the trip are those that reached the Copa America final in July.

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Summer signing Sergio Aguero was expected to start preseason on Monday following three weeks off but returned a few days early and has been working individually at the club’s Barcelona training base since Friday.

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Brazil defender Emerson Royal, meanwhile, underwent COVID-19 and medical checks on Monday ahead of returning to training this week.

Monday would also have marked the day Messi was due back in, three weeks after Argentina beat Brazil in the Copa America final, but sources have told ESPN the club and the player have decided to delay his start date.

As a free agent, the forward would be allowed to use the club’s facilities, as long as adequate insurance is in place, but the decision has been made to wait until his new deal is signed.

Sources told ESPN the club are working hard in the hope of getting it over the line before the Joan Gamper Trophy on Sunday, when Barca host Juventus.

Messi’s contract with Barca expired on June 30, technically ending his 21-year relationship with the club. However, ESPN reported in July that he has reached an agreement in principle to sign a new five-year deal.

The hold-up has been caused by Barca’s financial problems. The club must reduce their wage bill and bring in money from transfers to comply with LaLiga’s spending limits and register the new contract.

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Meanwhile, talks continue with the representatives of Sergio Busquets, Sergi Roberto, Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique over wage deferrals. Sources have told ESPN there’s a willingness on both sides to reach an agreement but further negotiations are required.

Messi, 34, returned to Barcelona last week following time off in Miami and the Dominican Republic after winning his first senior trophy in international football. The Catalan club’s security staff met him at the city’s El-Prat airport.

He then spent the weekend in Ibiza with Atletico Madrid’s Luis Suarez, Monaco’s Cesc Fabregas and their respective families as the wait to resolve his Barca future goes on.

Barca kick off the new season on Aug. 15, when they host Real Sociedad in LaLiga.

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