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."

Luis Suarez returned to first-team training at Barcelona on Wednesday to give head coach Ernesto Valverde hope that he could feature against Valencia on Saturday and lessen the need to rush Lionel Messi back from injury.

Suarez is nearing full fitness again after suffering an Achilles tendon injury in Barcelona's defeat to Athletic Bilbao on the opening day of the new LaLiga season.

After missing Barca's subsequent 5-2 win over Real Betis and their 2-2 draw at Osasuna, the Uruguay international trained with the team in the build-up to Valencia's visit to Camp Nou to provide Valverde with a welcome boost to his attacking options.

Messi, meanwhile, had been expected to make his first appearance of the season against Valencia after recovering from a calf injury but Valverde may opt not to risk the 32-year-old if Suarez is available.

The muscle strain sustained on the first day of pre-season training has kept Messi out of Valverde's matchday squads since then, but the Barcelona coach said he hoped to have him back in time to face Valencia.

However, the Spanish champions face a trip to Germany three days after the Valencia game to face Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and Valverde may give Messi extra rest as he completes his recovery.

Ousmane Dembele is "still like a child" and needs guidance in order to fulfil his potential, according to former Barcelona team-mate Kevin-Prince Boateng.

Boateng spent the latter part of the 2018-19 season playing alongside Dembele at Camp Nou while on loan from Sassuolo and he opened up about the France international's temperament in an interview with Bild.

Dembele has earned a reputation for his poor timekeeping having been suspended for Barcelona's defeat to Real Betis last season after missing a training session and France coach Didier Deschamps publicly lambasted him, saying: "I know about his excuses when he turns up late."

Barcelona stuck by the 22-year-old in the face of speculation that he might leave the club, for whom he scored eight goals in 29 LaLiga appearances last season, but Boateng urged the Blaugrana to nurture his talent.

"He is very calm, and does not talk much," Boateng told Bild.

"He is still like a child to me. You have to take him as he is and it may be that he arrives late.

"There are players who do that in defiance, but that's different with him. He's just like a little boy – one who earns a lot of money, one who is extremely public."

Boateng's stay with the LaLiga champions was short-lived and he made just three league appearances during a five-month spell at the club.

In contrast, Dembele is someone Barca coach Ernesto Valverde and president Josep Maria Bartomeu seem keen to keep hold of as he embarks upon his third season in Catalonia.

Boateng warned Barcelona: "You have to point him in the right direction. If he does not learn then it is his fault.

"For me, he's still a little boy who was thrown into this huge pool, suddenly costing 150 million euros overnight and somehow does not even know how everything works – because he just wants to play football."

Antoine Griezmann believes it would be a "very good" stance to stop matches in the case of homophobia or racism in the stands, disagreeing with French Football Federation (FFF) president Noel Le Graet.

FFF chief Le Graet this week called for games to continue in spite of homophobic chanting or displays following a worrying number of incidents in French football.

But World Cup winner Griezmann, speaking after France's 3-0 Euro 2020 qualifying win over Andorra, was in support of halting play.

The Barcelona star believes stopping matches would be an effective way to prevent future incidents.

"For me, it's very good to stop the matches, whether for homophobic songs or racist songs," Griezmann told RTL.

"If we stop the matches, people will not be happy and they will stop doing it."

French president Emmanuel Macron called for the Ligue de Football Professionnel and its clubs to take responsibility and address the issue.

Ligue 1 games in Nice and Metz were paused in the space of a week last month after discriminatory banners were seen in the crowd.

Elsewhere, a second-tier encounter between Nancy and Le Mans in August was stopped by match officials following instructions to intervene in the event of homophobic chanting or displays.

David Beckham and Inter Miami have set their sights on Lionel Messi.

Messi, 32, has regularly been linked with one day switching to MLS and it appears Inter are making their move.

Beckham seems to be trying his best to land the Barcelona superstar.

 

TOP STORY – BECKHAM IN TALKS WITH MESSI OVER INTER MIAMI MOVE

Beckham has spoken to Messi about joining Inter Miami, according to Catalunya Radio.

It comes in the wake of reports the forward can leave Barcelona at the end of any season, regardless of when his contract runs until.

The economic bid for Messi would be "brutal", the report said, as Inter look to sign the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

 

ROUND-UP

- Inter Miami may not stop there. The MLS club, due to begin playing in 2020, are also eyeing Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane, according to AS. Napoli boss Carlo Ancelotti has previously said he is open to coaching Inter Miami.

- After the latest transfer saga ended with Neymar staying at Paris Saint-Germain, it is set to come back to life in January. PSG sporting director Leonardo wants the Brazil international to leave the Ligue 1 champions, according to Tuttosport, and a move could happen in January, with Barcelona and Real Madrid sure to again be linked.

- Barcelona are already looking ahead and are set to track Napoli midfielder Fabian Ruiz throughout this season, Mundo Deportivo reports. Fabian joined the Serie A side from Real Betis for a reported €30million in July last year.

- Expecting their transfer ban to be cut, Chelsea have identified Nice defender Youcef Atal as a target, according to The Sun. The Algeria international is also wanted by Valencia, Calciomercato.com reports.

- AC Milan have identified Stade Rennes teenager Eduardo Camavinga as a player to follow, according to Calciomercato.com. The 16-year-old made seven Ligue 1 appearances last season.

- Gonzalo Higuain is continuing to turn around his career at Juventus. Calciomercato.com says the forward – linked with a move away throughout the close season – will start alongside Cristiano Ronaldo when the Serie A champions face Fiorentina on Saturday.

Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona may yet seal a deal for Neymar as negotiations are not over, according to the forward's father and agent.

Neymar was strongly linked with a return to Camp Nou before the European transfer window closed this month.

The Brazil superstar was said to be keen to go back to Barca two years after controversially leaving for a world-record €222million.

PSG sporting director Leonardo confirmed Neymar wanted to leave the club and was available for transfer if the right offer was made.

But Barca and PSG were unable to come to an agreement, with LaLiga giants Real Madrid also reportedly seeing offers rejected.

Neymar, who has three years remaining on his PSG contract, has yet to play for the Ligue 1 champions this term.

PSG coach Thomas Tuchel said he would not select the 27-year-old until his future was resolved.

Neymar Sr, though, has cast fresh doubt on his son's long-term future in the French capital.

"The negotiations between clubs are not over," he said in an appearance at Edinburgh Sports Conference. 

"A Brazilian just wants to be where he is happy and he was very happy at Barcelona. When his friends asked him if he want to go back, it upset him."

Barca reportedly made cash-plus-players bids to PSG in a bid to force a move through, with Ousmane Dembele and Ivan Rakitic among those said to have been offered.

"As an agent, you feel weak when there is no structure that allows you to come and go," added Neymar's father.

"There was no release clause in his contract and this makes things very difficult.

"We fought to find an agreement. We gave the best of ourselves for him."

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