Messi to stay at Barcelona, says club president

Ronald Koeman is set to become Barcelona’s next coach and the Dutchman will construct his team around Lionel Messi, according to club president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Koeman, who is revered by Barça fans for delivering their first European Cup as a player, will be expected to lead the club’s rebuilding work after they were thrashed 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals last Friday.

“If there is no change then we will announce Koeman as our next coach and he will lead this team and these players forward with a different type of project, led by a coach who all Barça fans know,” Bartomeu said in an interview with the club’s official television channel.

It has been a rough season for Barcelona, who watched rivals Real Madrid take their crown as La Liga champions, and had an early exit from the Copa del Rey, with a loss to Athletic Bilbao.

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This was capped by the humiliating defeat by Bayern — the first time in 74 years that Barça had conceded eight goals in a game.

Barcelona sacked Ernesto Valverde mid-season, but replacement coach Quique Setien was handed his papers soon after the Champions League loss, triggering widespread speculation that Messi could walk away from the club 16 years after his senior debut.

However Bartomeu said Messi was not about to leave the club, and would be an integral part of the team under Koeman.

“Messi wants to end his career at Barça, he has said that many times,” he said.

Lionel Messi holds his hand to his forehead as he stands on his own.
Lionel Messi has scored 634 goals for Barcelona — but his club has a tough task ahead to get back to the top.(Reuters: Manu Fernandez/Pool)

“Messi has a contract with Barça until 2021. I speak to him and his father regularly and they know that we have a solid project, that a new coach is coming, and that he will count on him.”

Koeman’s imminent arrival will be the third phase of a restructuring of the club which began with Setien’s sacking and continued on Tuesday as sporting director Eric Abidal agreed to terminate his contract.

Koeman, 57, arrived in Barcelona on Tuesday after spending the morning at the Netherlands’ headquarters to negotiate being released from his contract with the national team, who he has coached since 2018 and led to qualify for Euro 2020.

Ronald Koeman looks on from the sidelines as Everton plays Arsenal.
Ronald Koeman has been a manager in the Premier League, the Eredivisie, La Liga and the Dutch national team — now he is set to take charge of Barcelona.(Reuters: Lee Smith)

Koeman is fondly remembered at Barça for the role he played in Johan Cruyff’s hugely successful side, known as the ‘Dream Team’, and for scoring the only goal against Sampdoria in the 1992 European Cup final.

The defender later became the club’s assistant coach before embarking on an eventful career as a head coach, managing Dutch sides Ajax Amsterdam, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord plus Premier League teams Southampton and Everton and La Liga’s Valencia.

“We are betting on him because we know him very well, we know how he thinks and how his teams play, but also because of his experience, and as he was in Johan’s ‘Dream Team’ he knows Barça and how we understand football,” Bartomeu added.

Bartomeu, who on Monday announced that the club’s presidential elections will take place in March 2021, three months earlier than planned, also defended his running of the club after facing calls to resign after the defeat by Bayern.

“We have a sporting crisis, but not an institutional one,” he added.

“We’ve had a very negative result in the Champions League but the club is in a good place in a social and financial sense.”

Reuters/ABC

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