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Six-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi told Barcelona he wants to leave — on a free transfer — in a “bombshell” fax on Tuesday that is expected to spark a legal battle over a buy-out clause worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Signalling the end of an era at Barcelona, where Messi is the record scorer and has won four Champions League titles, the disgruntled Argentine wants to terminate his contract “unilaterally” by triggering a release clause, a source told AFP.

Relations have plummeted this year and speculation swirled about Messi’s departure after this month’s humiliating 8-2 Champions League quarter-final defeat to Bayern Munich, which left Barca without a trophy for the first time since 2007.

The 33-year-old’s demand, faxed by his lawyers, prompted protests against Barcelona’s under-fire president Josep Maria Bartomeu outside the Camp Nou where Messi, synonymous with the club’s most successful period, is worshipped by fans.

“I don’t see him anywhere else. I can’t believe it,” said Ruben Tejero, 28, one of about 100 fans at the stadium calling for Bartomeu to resign.

“I prefer to think it’s an ultimatum given to management for Bartomeu to go.”

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