Amid fevered speculation that Lionel Messi’s days at Barcelona are numbered, the club’s president has insisted his star playmaker is going nowhere.
Barcelona confirmed former player Ronald Koeman as the club’s new coach Wednesday, but the coming months will be a period of reckoning for the Catalan side following a humiliating 8-2 defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals, with Messi central to the club’s on-field plans moving forward, according to Josep Maria Bartomeu.
“Messi has said many times that he wants to finish career at Barca. Koeman has said to us that Messi is the pillar of his project,” Bartomeu told Barca TV.
“He has a contract until 2021. I talk to the player and his father regularly. I have no doubt, despite the disappointment of Lisbon, that we will be excited by the new project. Messi is still the best player in the world, and we have him with us.
“I have not spoken to Messi but I have spoken to his father. The pain is behind us. We have to be optimistic and we have to pick ourselves up, work hard and excite everyone.
“A cycle is coming to an end and another one starts but in the Messi era.”
Bartomeu also insisted that the 17-year-old Ansu Fati, who became the youngest scorer in the history of the UEFA Champions League after he netted a late winner Barca in the 2-1 victory over Inter Milan in December, was “not for sale.”
“We have received offers for Ansu Fati but we don’t want to sell him. We want to grow here,” said Bartomeu.
After last week’s defeat, which saw Bayern become the first time to score eight goals at any stage of the Champions League knockout rounds, Barcelona veteran Gerard Pique called for change at a structural level, rather than with players and coaches.
But Bartomeu, who has been in his current role since 2014, said he believes the club has “a sporting crisis,” not an institutional one.
“The model and the style of play is the same, but there are aspects of the model that have to be improved,” he said.
“We have to strengthen and develop with a more physical football. We need talent and a footballing idea but also other physical aspects that perhaps before we did not take into account.”
He went on to say that sporting director Eric Abidal, who enjoyed great success as a player with Barcelona but struggled to make an impression since joining at management level in 2018, asked to leave the club, and that now is also the time to “say goodbye” to some players.
“Ramon Planes will be in charge of the technical side,” said Bartomeu. “The decisions that are to be taken in conjunction with the technical secretary and the new coach.
“There will be an individual conversation with each player that is not part of the plans. They are legendary players and they need to leave with honors, but we have to talk case by case.”
“The renewal is not just about changing players, it is changing part of the structure of the football team,” added Bartomeu. “The renewal will go deeper than the players. Barca has money but it has a problem with the wage bill.
“Covid has meant a reduction in income and for that reason we have to reduce the wage bill to bring in new players.
“In the 20/21 season we will lose 320 million euros ($382.3 million) of income and the effect of Covid will be more serious than that of the season that has just finished.”
For now, the president is confident that Koeman, who played for Barca in the 1990s, is the right man take the club forward.
“If nothing takes a wrong turn, Koeman will be Barca coach for next season,” he said.
“We know him and how he thinks and also his experience. He knows the Barca philosophy well and believes in the Barça style and for that reason he is the one chosen.”