Sergio Ramos fought back the tears as he said his goodbyes to Real Madrid during an emotional press conference on Thursday – but the defender said his ‘first choice’ was to stay on at the Bernabeu.
The 35-year-old is available on a free transfer this summer after calling time on an incredible 16-year spell with Madrid in which he made 671 appearances, scored 101 goals and helped the club win 22 trophies.
Negotiations over a possible contract extension stalled some time ago as Ramos refused to accept a 10 per cent salary reduction to remain in the Spanish capital.
Ramos’ initial demands for a two-year deal provided another stumbling block, with the La Liga giants only prepared to offer the veteran centre-back another 12 months.
"I’ll always keep Real Madrid in my heart," a teary Ramos told reporters.
"A marvellous stage in my life is over, but a new exciting future awaits and I am looking forward to showing my level and winning some more trophies."
"You’re never prepared to say adios to Real Madrid but the moment has arrived. This is a ‘adieu’ as sooner or later I will return."
"I would like to thank the fans, they carried me in their arms at all times. I would have liked to say goodbye at the Bernabeu but I will always carry you in my heart."
The Spain international – who was left out of Luis Enrique’s Euro 2020 squad – insisted money was never the main ‘issue’ when it came to committing his future to Madrid.
He also suggested he was disappointed not to have made aware of Madrid’s deadline for him agreeing to a one-year extension.
"My first choice was to stay. I received a one-year offer with a salary cut," Ramos added.
"Money wasn’t an issue, I wanted a two-year contract for myself and my family. I insist, it was not a financial issue."
"I accepted the one-year offer at last, but the club informed me that the offer was no longer on the table."
"The contract renewal offer had an expiration date which I did not know about."