Soccer-Messi contract saga goes to the wire, but club still optimistic

Copa America 2021 - Group A - Bolivia v Argentina

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Argentina's Lionel Messi has yet to agree on a new contract with Barcelona, the club where he has spent his entire career, and his 21-year association with the Catalans could come to an end at midnight on Wednesday if no new deal is reached.

Barca's all-time top scorer, who joined as a 13-year-old in September 2000, could stay beyond June 30 as a free agent, however, and officially not belong to the club until he puts pen to paper on a contract extension.

The club declined to comment on Messi's contract situation when contacted by Reuters on Tuesday.

Failure to tie Messi to a deal before June 30 would be an embarrassment for Barca and president Joan Laporta while further highlighting the club's precarious financial situation.

The club has a total debt of more than 1 billion euros, while Messi's soon-to-expire contract, which he signed in 2017, is the most lucrative in world sport, according to a January report in newspaper El Mundo.

Laporta said this month that Messi, who tried to leave the club last year after falling out with previous chief Josep Maria Bartomeu, was keen to stay but also urged his captain to sign as soon as possible.

"I'd like Messi to tell us yes as soon as he can, that would help us in many ways," he told newspaper La Vanguardia.

"We're in constant communication, he is hopeful and I'm grateful to him for showing a willingness to stay."

Messi, who turned 34 last week, became Argentina's all-time top appearance maker on Monday as he scored twice in a 4-1 win over Bolivia in the Copa America.

(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Hugh Lawson)