Ernesto Valverde believes Lionel Messi's comments about his Barcelona future have been overplayed, insisting there is no doubt over the Argentinian's commitment.

In an interview with SPORT published this week, Messi – who is set to miss the game against Valencia on Saturday as he recovers from an injury which has kept him out of the opening three LaLiga fixtures – stated he does not intend to leave the club, though his commitment came on the condition of continued success.

Messi signed a four-year contract in 2017, but the agreement includes a clause which gives him the option of leaving on a free transfer at the end of each campaign.

However, Valverde is adamant Messi's words have been misinterpreted, although Barca's head coach acknowledged he is unable to control what players say in the press.

"I didn't want to read it. I know what Leo has to say," Valverde told a news conference when asked if Messi's comments suggested a rift between Barca's star player and the club's board.

"He expresses himself naturally and then people tend to misinterpret what he has said.

"Everything he says, people try to squeeze out every sub-meaning from his words. I think he was just trying to express things naturally, I don't think we need to worry.

"I don't think there are any doubts regarding his future. It's the club that decides which players it's going to keep or not, but I don't think there are any concerns, certainly I don't have any concerns about it."

Messi had been expected to recover from his calf injury in time to feature against Valencia. However, Valverde conceded the injury is worse than first expected, with Messi also unlikely to play against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League on Tuesday.

"The scar opened a little bit, so it’s told us that we need to exercise a little bit of caution," Valverde said. "I don't think it’s long that he’ll be back again. But Tuesday, I don't know, probably later.

"Of course he's a very important player for us, I can't deny that, but there has been other times when he hasn't played and we've got through games very well.

"He's the best player in the world so we want him back as soon as possible, but we want him to come back at full fitness, not for him to come back and then take things a step even further back.

"Missing Messi is always going to be noted, but it also means possibilities for other players to up their game. We saw that against Real Betis, certainly.

"Knowing how difficult it is to replace Messi, we need the guarantee that the team is still able to compete in his absence."

Ernesto Valverde wants to move on from the Neymar transfer saga as he fears it could have a negative effect on Barcelona.

The Brazil international is rumoured to have been desperate for a return to his former club, two years after leaving for Ligue 1 giants PSG in a world-record €222million deal, but nothing materialised before the September 2 deadline.

Neymar's future remains a hot topic of discussion after Barcelona star Lionel Messi said this week he does not know if his side did everything possible to bring his former team-mate back to Camp Nou.

Valverde was not in the mood to discuss Messi's interview during Friday's news conference, however, telling reporters: "Was this not over? It is done.

"We've been speaking about Neymar before the window, during it and now afterwards we're still talking about him. 

"It's time to turn the page. He's a very good player. The market closed days ago. 

"He's a great player, I know everyone has their opinion. Talking about these things is bad for the club. I do not like it.

"I didn't read the interview. Everyone looks at Leo with binoculars. There is no need to attach too much importance."

Barcelona are rumoured to have offered PSG cash plus players for Neymar, with Ivan Rakitic among those touted as a possible makeweight.

The Croatia midfielder has been restricted to just 44 minutes of football in Barca's first three LaLiga matches due to increased competition for a starting place, but Valverde is prepared to rotate with seven matches in the next 23 days.

"I don't think he's affected in any kind of way," Valverde said. "There's no reason for him to feel that way. 

"We've got a lot of players in midfield - if Rakitic doesn't play it's the same as Arthur, [Arturo] Vidal, [Carles] Alena, Sergi Roberto, Sergio Busquets. Whoever I don't play is going to be a story.

"Evidently they can't all play and there's competition for places. Sergio Busquets is a fixed player [in the starting XI] and that limits chances even more.

"There's time to start thinking about what type of rotations work and do not work in those positions."

Neymar is available for Paris Saint-Germain and ready to face Strasbourg on Saturday, coach Thomas Tuchel has confirmed.

Neymar has not played for PSG yet this season having been sidelined by injury and speculation over his future in the French capital.

He was a target for former club Barcelona during the transfer window but the LaLiga champions were unable to seal a deal with PSG.

Neymar then made his comeback from injury during the international break, featuring for Brazil in a pair of friendly matches against Colombia and Peru.

Speaking at his pre-match news conference on Friday, Tuchel said Neymar is ready to be recalled into the PSG squad for Saturday's visit of Strasbourg.

"Neymar's return is well-timed given fellow forwards Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani will both miss the game due to injury," Tuchel told reporters.

"Yes, clearly yes, of course, now everything is clear, we know our group, I'm very happy, we have a lot of talent, we have Neymar in our group, we have nothing else in our head, Ney too, and he can focus on us.

"We miss Edi and Kylian, so he needs to get back and he's available tomorrow."

Neymar has yet to speak openly about the transfer saga involving Barcelona, but former team-mate Lionel Messi is among those to have talked about the potential deal.

Messi was reportedly pushing hard for Neymar to be targeted by PSG, while sporting director Leonardo confirmed the 27-year-old had made it clear he wanted to leave Paris.

PSG were open to offers for the Brazil forward but reportedly rejected cash-plus-players deals proposed by Barcelona, with Tuchel now expecting Neymar to refocus on his third PSG campaign - although he will be serving a suspension when his team face Real Madrid in the Champions League next week.

"I'm convinced that Neymar will give everything to help us achieve our goals this season," he added.

"It is the challenge for me to find a balance between always talking with him or not talking to him.

"Life is not too hard for Ney to live and play in Paris, it's not too bad either... if we talk about all the things that Ney said, that his father said, that Barcelona said... We're going to lose our heads, I want to look forward, he'll get his smile back and then we'll see."

Marc-Andre ter Stegen has expressed frustration with being overlooked by Germany head coach Joachim Low.

Barcelona goalkeeper Ter Stegen was on the bench for both of Germany's Euro 2020 qualifiers during the international break.

Manuel Neuer conceded four goals in a Group C defeat at home to Netherlands, but then kept a clean sheet in an away win against joint-leaders Northern Ireland.

Ter Stegen deputised for Neuer during the 2018-19 season when the Bayern Munich captain was sidelined long-term due to injury.

Neuer has regained the gloves since returning to full fitness, though, and Ter Stegen accepts he is in a frustrating situation.

"It is not easy to find an explanation as I am giving the best account of myself in each game to make the decision more difficult," Ter Stegen said.

"I am trying [to become first-choice] anyway. But this trip with the national team has been a tough blow for me."

Ter Stegen, 27, has played 22 times for his country, who are on track to qualify for Euro 2020 after joining Northern Ireland on 12 points after five games.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen believes Lionel Messi is "really happy" at Camp Nou but says the Barcelona talisman has earned the right to decide his own future.

Messi, who has only played for Barca at club level since making his debut in October 2004, gave a wide-ranging interview to SPORT this week.

The Argentina international, considered one of the greatest players of all time, said he aimed to stay at Barca for "as long as possible" but acknowledged a "need to see there's a winning team".

The Catalan giants have not won the Champions League since the 2014-15 season when Neymar starred alongside Luis Suarez and Messi, who had hoped the Brazil forward would return to Barcelona.

However, Ter Stegen had no issue with Messi's apparent suggestion that he could move on from Barca if the team does not perform.

"[Messi] deserves to choose his own future," he told reporters. "The easiest thing is for us to tell him to stay because he's a key player for us and his level is so high.

"I'm convinced he's really happy in the team, at the club and in the city. It's hard for him to move.

"Personally, I want him to stay, but I don't decide. We're going to tell him to stay and we hope he does."

Messi said he did not know if Barca had done everything possible to bring Neymar back to the club from Paris Saint-Germain, but Ter Stegen is keen to move on from the failed transfer.

"It is a question that is currently difficult to answer," he said. "Neymar is a spectacular player, he spent many years with us and took another step.

"Now nothing can be changed. The club has tried what it could. We are delighted to have the best players in the squad. I'm happy with the team we have."

It was reported Ivan Rakitic could form part of a deal for Neymar as he was repeatedly linked with a move away from the LaLiga champions, yet Ter Stegen is glad to have the midfielder still on board.

"It's what happens every year," he said. "In the end, the good thing is that we have people like him who give everything for the club and, personally, I think it is fantastic that he stayed because he gives us a lot of quality.

"He is one of the pillars of our team as a person and as a footballer. He has a contract for some years and we hope he stays.

"I am not the coach to decide, but I hope he plays a few more minutes - although that is the coach's decision and he will choose those he thinks can help us more."

Lionel Messi has told Ousmane Dembele he needs to step up for Barcelona and be more professional.

Stories about Dembele's discipline, including time-keeping issues, have been a constant thread through the France forward's career to date.

His lack of development since swapping Borussia Dortmund for Camp Nou led to Dembele reportedly being offered to Paris Saint-Germain as a makeweight in a proposed deal for Neymar.

No transfer went through before the deadline at the start of September, however, with former Rennes starlet Dembele said to be reluctant to make the return to Ligue 1.

Barca captain Messi has made it clear more is expected of Dembele this term, although the 22-year-old scored eight LaLiga goals in 2018-19 when only starting 20 games.

"I believe he's an impressive talent who can do whatever he wants," Messi said in an interview with SPORT. "He is very young and I think this year will be very important for him to make the step up that the whole of the Barcelona fanbase wants to see.

"He needs to make that change to be more professional, to put that idea into his head, so he can be a success at Barcelona like he wants to be. I hope he doesn't have the bad luck he’s had with injuries.

"Last year, when we needed him the most, he was injured. Hopefully that doesn't happen this year and he's able to show everything he has, which is a lot. As a player, he's very impressive."

Messi, though, accepts it is not easy to thrive at Barca, with players such as Philippe Coutinho having failed to make their mark.

"It's very difficult to play for Barcelona," he said. "It's the biggest club in the world and everything that comes with it is tough.

"The supporters, the groups, the media coverage ... It isn't easy to come in and step out onto the Camp Nou pitch. It doesn't matter for some and others feel it immediately.

"When someone has a strong mentality and is confident, everything works out. But not everyone is the same. Some people aren't able to adapt to these things in the same way.

"It isn't easy to play for Barcelona."

Virgil van Dijk should not be considered better than Lionel Messi even if he does win the Ballon d'Or, according to former Netherlands star Rafael van der Vaart.

Liverpool star Van Dijk is among the favourites for the world's top individual prizes after an outstanding 2019, helping the Reds to win the Champions League last season in Madrid.

If he was to take home the gong, Van Dijk would be the first defender to win the Ballon d'Or since Italy's World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro in 2006.

But Van der Vaart, Van Dijk's countryman, claims a defender's importance to his team can see them rewarded for an outstanding year even if they do not match up to five-time winner Messi.

Asked if a defender could win the coveted award, Van der Vaart told reporters: "Yeah, of course. Why not?

"You can't compare players. If you choose a defender, it doesn't mean he is better than Messi. You have to see what he wins, how important he is for his own team. We will see what happens."

Netherlands have two of European football's foremost centre-backs, with Matthijs de Ligt having left Ajax for Juventus in the close season.

The 20-year-old endured a tough Bianconeri debut in a 4-3 win over Napoli, but Van der Vaart expects him to prove his worth.

"He could have played somewhere else - Bayern Munich or maybe for Barcelona - and now he's had a difficult start at Juventus," the former Real Madrid midfielder said.

"It's not easy - [Giorgio] Chiellini is injured now, it's going to be difficult for him, but he has so much talent.

"He also played two games for the national team and was by far the best man on the pitch [in the past week]. He's a great talent."

And Van der Vaart is hopeful of a bright future for Netherlands under head coach Ronald Koeman.

He added: "We are lucky that we have so many good talents at the moment, with De Ligt, [Frenkie] De Jong, Van Dijk, some special players.

"[Koeman] is a guy who brought stability to the team. You can see everyone likes to play for Netherlands again and, for a long time, it was not like that."

Lionel Messi insists he has no issue with Cristiano Ronaldo and would accept a dinner invitation from his long-time awards rival.

The pair crossed paths at a recent ceremony to crown the UEFA Men's Player of the Year for 2018-19, which Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk won.

Barcelona captain Messi and Juventus star Ronaldo finished second and third respectively, but the event gave the former Real Madrid forward the chance to publicly reflect on their "battle in Spain" and the time they have spent at the pinnacle of the game.

Ronaldo floated the prospect of a private dinner in future, an idea welcomed by his fellow five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

"Yes, I don't have any problem with that," Messi told SPORT.

"I've always said that I don't have any issue with him. We might not be friends because we've never shared a dressing room together, but I always see him at award shows and there's no problem.

"We actually spoke with each other for quite a long time at the most recent show.

"I don't know if there will be a dinner because I don't know if our paths will cross for obvious reasons, each one of us has our own life and our own commitments. But obviously I would accept the invitation."

Messi has missed the early weeks of the new season because of a calf injury suffered before Barca's pre-season tour to the United States.

The 32-year-old ruled himself out of Saturday's clash with Valencia and remains unsure whether he will be available for next week's Champions League date with Borussia Dortmund.

"I feel better," he said. "It [the injury] was really bad because it happened on my first day back [after the Copa America] and it originally looked to be something minor but, in reality, I have been out of action for the past 15 days.

"Now I know what it is and I feel more at ease. I will return when I feel I have fully recovered.

"I've spent a long time on the sidelines. As soon as I started this happened to me and I can’t wait to return."

Barca have struggled in their skipper's absence, winning one of their opening three LaLiga games.

Lionel Messi wants to remain at Barcelona for as long as the club can satisfy his hunger for trophies.

Barcelona captain Messi is in his 16th season as a first-team player at Camp Nou, having made his LaLiga debut in October 2004.

The 32-year-old signed a fresh four-year contract in 2017 but the agreement has been revealed to include a clause which gives him the option of leaving on a free transfer at the end of each campaign.

Messi, who denied being in talks over a new deal, does not intend to leave, although his commitment comes with one key condition.

"What I can say is that I want to be at Barcelona as long as possible," Messi said in an interview with SPORT.

"I've said throughout my career that this is my home. But I also don't want to have a long-term contract and only be here because of it. I want to be here because physically I'm fine to play and be an important member of the squad.

"And as I said before, I need to see there's a winning team because I want to keep winning things at this club.

"For me, money or a clause don't mean anything. Other things motivate me and the most important thing is having a winning team."

He added: "Obviously, I want to win and I want to win at this club. This is my home. I don't have any intention of going anywhere but I want to keep competing and winning."

At the top of his wish list is a fifth Champions League crown.

Messi and Barca looked set to end a four-year European drought upon reaching the semi-finals last season, only to give up a three-goal first-leg advantage as they crumbled to defeat against Liverpool at Anfield.

Ernesto Valverde's job was called into question but star forward Messi, while adamant the club "must" win the Champions League, absolved the Blaugrana boss of blame.

"When these things happen, everyone thinks the worst because we didn’t complete our objectives," the 10-time LaLiga winner said.

"Something similar happened in the previous year too, although I believe it was worse on this occasion.

"As I said in the moment, we [the players] are to blame. The coaching staff had nothing to do with the performance we put in.

"Until that moment we had a great season, dominating the league from the first moment, making the final of the Copa del Rey.

"It was more an issue with us than with the coaching team."

When it came to Paul Pogba during the transfer window, Real Madrid and Juventus were the teams on everyone's lips.

Manchester United star Pogba was reportedly keen to leave Old Trafford in search of a new challenge.

However, another team were apparently poised to lure Pogba from the Theatre of Dreams…

 

TOP STORY – NEYMAR STOPPED PSG FROM SIGNING POGBA

Neymar prevented Manchester United midfielder Pogba from moving to Paris Saint-Germain, according to Calciomercato.it.

PSG and United reportedly had an agreement in place for the transfer of Pogba, however, the Ligue 1 champions and their inability to offload Barcelona target Neymar stopped the deal.

The report says PSG were ready to pay €150million (£134m) for Pogba, who joined United from Juventus in 2016 for a then-record fee of €105m (£89m).

 

ROUND-UP

Real Madrid have an agreement with Chelsea for midfielder N'Golo Kante. DefensaCentral claims Los Blancos have the first chance to buy the France star should he be made available at Stamford Bridge.

- In-demand Dinamo Zagreb star Dani Olmo wants to leave the Croatian club in January or at the end of the season, according to Fichajes.net. The 21-year-old was linked with Bayern Munich, AC Milan, Atletico Madrid and Valencia during the transfer window.

Juventus have not given up on signing Fiorentina and Italy forward Federico Chiesa, according to Calciomercato.it. The Serie A champions were keen to bring in Chiesa during the off-season but were unable to lure him from Florence.

- Sport says Paris Saint-Germain are beginning their remodelling job, with Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani facing uncertain futures. Silva and Cavani – who has been linked to incoming MLS outfit Inter Miami – are out of contract at the end of the season and are no guarantees to renew their contracts. Eric Maxim Choupo-MotingThomas Meunier and Layvin Kurzawa are available at the right price in January.

- Juventus forward Mario Mandzukic has turned down a move to Qatari outfit Al-Gharafa, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport. Mandzukic was linked to Manchester United prior to the transfer window closing.

Barcelona director Javier Bordas said the LaLiga champions will do what they can to bring Neymar back to Camp Nou.

Neymar wanted to leave Paris Saint-Germain prior to the transfer deadline and was reportedly desperate for a Barca return, though a move did not materialise.

It came just two years after Neymar left Barca for Ligue 1 giants PSG in a world-record €222million deal.

Neymar's father and agent has already claimed negotiations between Barca and PSG are not over amid ongoing speculation.

Bordas kept the door open, telling EFE: "While he wants to come, we will do what we can to bring him back.

"What happens will happen, everything is constantly changing in football, but Neymar is Neymar.

"The case of Neymar is a special one. He's an exceptional player and he wants to come to Barcelona; he hasn't adapted to Paris; he was wrong to go there, and even he has said that."

The future of Barcelona's superstar captain Lionel Messi has also dominated headlines.

Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu confirmed reports that Messi has the option to leave the club at the end of the season.

Messi signed his latest contract in 2017, with the deal running until the end of the 2020-21 campaign.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner has been linked with a move to MLS via David Beckham's incoming franchise Inter Miami but Bordas said: "I don't see him at another club. There are few people more connected to Barcelona than Messi.

"Messi is from Barcelona [having moved as a child and spent most of his life there]. Messi is Barcelona.

"People are worried about his contract clause, but Messi will stay because he is at home here, he feels it; he comes from La Masia, you only have to look at him when a match has been lost."

Barca vice-president Jordi Cardoner, meanwhile, added: "We are calm and there is a lot of positivity, especially in the dressing room.

"Leo will do what he thinks is fit, but Leo's contract is very special because he is who he is. It's a concession made to him and other players who deserve it. He can enter and leave the club when he sees fit. I'd love for him to stay for as long as he wants to play for our team."

Lautaro Martinez's agent Alberto Yaque said it would be wonderful to see the Inter forward playing alongside Lionel Messi at Barcelona.

Martinez put himself in the headlines with a stunning first-half hat-trick as Argentina routed Mexico 4-0 in the absence of suspended captain Messi on Tuesday.

Yaque confirmed LaLiga champions Barca's interest in Martinez in July and he talked up a potential move to Camp Nou again.

"It'd be wonderful to see him play with Leo Messi at Barcelona," Yaque told TyC Sports, with Inter set to face Barca in the Champions League group stages.

"It's great to see him play like that, so relaxed and happy.

"He has remarkable control in his first touch and that makes it very difficult for defenders to catch him."

Martinez – who was linked with a €112million move to Barca, just one season after joining Inter from Racing Club – scored in the 2-1 Serie A win over Cagliari prior to the international break.

The 22-year-old finished with six league goals last season and nine across all competitions for Inter.

"Lautaro is very humble. When I went to meet him at Bahia Blanca, it wasn't easy to take him with me, as he was very close to his family and felt homesick. Fortunately, his parents trusted me," Yaque said.

"Before going to Inter, I told him he wouldn't struggle to settle in, because I know that whatever Lautaro puts into his head, he achieves. It's no mean feat to waltz into San Siro and play as if it's your backyard."

Antonio Conte's Inter welcome Udinese to San Siro on Saturday, seeking to preserve their perfect start to the season.

Lionel Messi said he does not know if Barcelona did everything possible to bring Neymar back to Camp Nou as he appeared to take aim at the LaLiga giants.

Neymar wanted to leave Paris Saint-Germain prior to the transfer deadline and was reportedly desperate for a Barca return, though a move did not materialise.

It came just two years after Neymar left Barca for Ligue 1 giants PSG in a world-record €222million deal.

Barca captain Messi was asked about the transfer pursuit and he told SPORT: "I don't know if Barca did everything possible for his return.

"But it is true that negotiating with PSG is not easy."

"I would have loved for Neymar to return," Messi added. "He is one of the best players in the world and at the image level and sponsors we would have taken a leap that would have given us stability."

Amid reports Messi and his team-mates asked for Barca to re-sign Neymar, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner said: "In the locker room we never asked for Ney's signing.

"We gave our opinion, but it has become clear that despite what they say, I do not command."

Neymar – who has three years remaining on his PSG contract – is yet to feature for Thomas Tuchel's side this season.

The 27-year-old, however, made his first appearance of the campaign for Brazil during the international break.

Neymar made a goalscoring return in Brazil's 2-2 draw with Colombia last week, while he came off the bench in Tuesday's 1-0 defeat to Peru in Los Angeles.

PSG return to Ligue 1 action at home to Strasbourg on Saturday, while Messi's Barcelona host Valencia on the same day.

Albert Celades admitted he faces a complicated situation at "a difficult club" after being appointed head coach of Valencia just hours after the sacking of Marcelino.

The decision to dismiss Marcelino came as a shock to supporters still celebrating their side's Copa del Rey triumph and their fourth-place finish in LaLiga last season, which saw them qualify for the Champions League.

Former Spain Under-21 and Real Madrid assistant coach Celades has no experience taking charge of a first team at club level and in a news conference he said he had travelled to Singapore to meet with Valencia owner Peter Lim before Marcelino's departure was announced.

However, he insisted he would aim to build on the foundations laid by Marcelino, saying: "Regardless of the situation, Valencia is always a difficult club.

"It is a great club, a giant, and we will try to contribute in the best way. It has all been very fast.

"We are aware of the work that Marcelino has done during these two seasons. He has done very good things. We want to continue feeding that good work."

Celades moved to quash fears that his arrival might reverse the progress Valencia have made under Marcelino, who endeared himself to supporters during a successful two-year spell at Mestalla.

Valencia finished 12th in LaLiga in 2016-17, but Marcelino's arrival in July 2017 preceded back-to-back fourth-place finishes.

Celades, whose first game in charge sees them visit champions Barcelona on Saturday, said: "This team has many good things that have helped it to achieve its goals. We are not going to break what is there and think that everything is wrong.

"We have a lot of respect for and a very good opinion of the previous coach. We will try to encourage good things to keep them happening. Little by little, we will be adding new things.

"Here there is always pressure. I have been hired to do a job and I will try to do it in the best possible way."

Page 2 of 110
© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.