'It has been an honour' -- Barcelona legend Busquets to leave club
Sergio Busquets was showered with praise by the football world after announcing Wednesday he will leave Barcelona in June at the end of his contract, ending a highly successful era at the club.
"The moment has arrived to announce this is my last season at Barcelona," said Busquets on Instagram.
"It has been an unforgettable journey."
Busquets won the Champions League three times with Barcelona and La Liga on eight occasions before this season, with the Catalans set to triumph for the first time in four years.
The 34-year-old has been a key player for Barca since breaking into the first team under then coach Pep Guardiola in 2008, becoming the club's captain in 2021.
Busquets is third Barcelona's all-time appearance list, playing for the club on 718 occasions, lifting 31 trophies
"It has been an honour, a dream, a pride. It has been everything to be able to defend and represent this badge for so many years, but everything has a beginning and an end," said Busquets.
"Although it has not been an easy decision, I think the time has come."
Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez, who played with Busquets in midfield for several years, wanted the midfielder to stay next season, but said the decision was his.
Busquets' team-mates past and present paid tribute to him on social media after he announced his future lay elsewhere.
Paris Saint-Germain forward Lionel Messi, a close friend, wrote a heartfelt message on Instagram.
"On the pitch you were always No 5, but in reality as a player and as a person, you are a 10, Busi," said the Argentine playmaker.
"Thank you for everything on and off the pitch."
Barcelona defender Jordi Alba also showed his affection for the veteran midfielder.
"My friend, after so much we've lived through together, what can I say that you don't know?" wrote Alba on Instagram.
"You're leaving your home, having made an indelible imprint on Barcelona's history.
"More than 700 games and a fundamental part of so many titles, and glorious nights that all Barca fans will forever remember."
Even rivals paid tribute, with Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric saying: "one of the best players I have played against."
- The future -
"Sergio is part of our badge, and will always have Barca as his home," said Barca president Joan Laporta in a video, implying the player would return one day in a different role.
"He is a Barca fan through his roots and has Barca in his blood -- he will have a longer Barca journey."
In his video, Busquets did not say where he might go next, with Spanish reports suggesting he may move to a team in Saudi Arabia.
Former Barcelona forward Messi is another player who may end up in the oil-rich kingdom after a source close to negotiations told AFP it was a "done deal" for the Argentine forward to move to the Middle East.
However Messi's father and agent Jorge Messi said Tuesday that the World Cup winner's future would only be decided at the end of the season.
Busquets won the World Cup with Spain in 2010 and the European Championship in 2012, a key member of the national team for nearly 15 years until he retired from international duty in December.
The midfielder was the only member of the 2010 World Cup winning team who was still part of the squad in Qatar in 2022 as Spain reached the last 16.