Koeman plans talks with 'best in the world' Messi, cautious on Barca clearout

By Sports Desk August 19, 2020

Lionel Messi will be at the heart of Ronald Koeman's plans as Barcelona head coach so long as the "best player in the world" wishes to remain at Camp Nou.

Koeman was unveiled as Quique Setien's successor on Wednesday, continuing a tempestuous few days at Barca following their humiliating 8-2 Champions League quarter-final loss to Bayern Munich.

Sporting director Eric Abidal departed after handling Setien's sacking, although reports Messi wishes to leave the club have arguably caused the biggest shockwaves.

Under-fire president Josep Maria Bartomeu told Barcelona's in-house television channel that Messi will be part of the club's immediate future, despite conceding he had not spoken to the player in the aftermath of the Bayern debacle.

Predictably, Messi was a prominent topic of conversation when Koeman faced reporters for the first time in a role he left his Netherlands post to take up.

"Messi is the best player in the world and you want the best player in the world on your team," he said.

"I don't know if I have to convince him [to stay]. I would love to work with him because he wins you games. If he gets the usual performance, I'm very happy that he stays.

"He has a contract. You have to talk to him, of course, he is captain of the team. We have to talk to several players. We have to make decisions. In the case of Messi, I hope he will be here for more years.

"If I tell you what I'm going to say to Leo, I don't need to meet him. They are private things. I want him to tell me what he thinks. But come on, he has one year left on his contract."

In his surprisingly wide-ranging address on Tuesday, Bartomeu said Messi was among a select group of players who were not for sale in the first-team squad that also includes Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Frenkie de Jong, Clement Lenglet, Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann and Ansu Fati.

Luis Suarez, Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets were among the notable omissions from that list but Koeman insists the more experienced members of his squad will have a chance to prove themselves.

Asked whether the nucleus of the Barcelona first-team needed to be replaced, he replied: "I think not, in principle. A 32-year-old player is not finished.

"Everything is about how hungry he is, how hungry he is to give everything.

"There are people at 20 years old who lack hunger and work ethic. I just want to work with people who want to be here.

"Whoever doesn't like it, go to the club and tell them. I just want to work with people who want to do their best for Barcelona."

When asked specifically about Suarez, he added: "Messi is different because he is the captain of the team, but I am not going to talk about the players.

"First I want to talk to them. I am not going to do that out of respect for the players."

Koeman scored the winning goal when Barcelona first became champions of Europe with a 1-0 win over Sampdoria at Wembley in 1992.

As such, he conceded last Friday's mauling at the hands of Bayern was a tough watch.

"I'm very sad about the result," he said. "I think it can't be, even if it is a team as good as this Bayern. After that sad day, we will have different days.

"This is not about a revolution, but if changes are best for the club, there will be changes.

"We will do it speaking with the players. What we saw versus Bayern was not the Barca we want. We want a very different image."

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