STALWART defender Ryan Bertrand issued an emotional message to Saints’ fans after it was announced his time at the club would finish at the end of the season.

The St Mary’s side confirmed the 31-year-old full-back would not be signing a new contract at the club, with his current terms set to expire this summer.

Bertrand will now become a highly sought-after free agent, with the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City, Milan and Monaco reportedly all vying for his signature.

But after 240 appearances for Saints, having initially joined on loan from Chelsea in 2014 before making his move permanent, Bertrand wanted to say goodbye to the St Mary’s faithful.

A post on the defender’s official Twitter page read: “After many months of hard decision making, I have decided to leave Southampton Football Club.

“This has only been decided in the past 48 hours and comments that I had not accepted an offer previously are not true.

“I want to thank all the fans for welcoming me to this football club and supporting me endlessly. All the support staff behind the scenes, I thank you.

“Also, special thanks to the Liebherr family.”

He added: “It is a shame I cannot experience a full crowd at St Mary’s one more time. As this year has shown us, football is nothing without the fans.

“Arriving at Southampton seven years ago, I soon realised what a family-orientated club this is. A true peoples’ club! I bought into the ‘Southampton Way’. A connected football club built on solid foundations and ambition, with an attractive, attacking style of football.

“During my time here, there have been many battles and there have been amazing moments along the way too!

“From finishing in the club’s highest position within the Premier League, to playing in two FA Cup semi-finals, to a Carabao Cup final, to me being voted to the Premier League Team of the Season.

“This has been a difficult decision for me, but the time has come for me to seek a new challenge and find a new home that allows me the freedom to play and maximise my contribution to the team.

“The club is in great hands now with CEO Martin Semmens and Matt Crocker. I would like to thank them both for their efforts.

“Southampton Football Club will always have a special place in my heart and I hope the saying ‘once a Saint always a Saint’ still stands because I look forward to returning to this club one day, either behind the scenes or as a fan.

“Thanks again, keep marching on!”

A statement from the club also read: “The club and Ryan have agreed that now is the time to respectfully part ways and move forward on different paths.

“Everyone associated with Southampton would like to thank Ryan for his contribution to the history of the club, and for all the memories he has helped create for our fans.

“He will forever be welcome at St Mary’s and Staplewood and will always be a Saint.”