Lionel Messi has dramatically cut short his holiday in order to hold urgent talks with new Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman about his plans to rebuild the crisis-stricken club.
Messi’s future at the Nou Camp is far from certain after Barcelona were ruthlessly thrashed 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League last week, prompting the departure of Koeman’s predecessor Quique Setien and sporting director Eric Abidal.
And according to Mundo Deportivo, Messi is returning from his family holiday in the La Cerdanya area of the Pyrenees to hear Koeman’s plans for himself.
Upon his unveiling as Barcelona manager, Koeman admitted he could have to convince Messi that his future remains with the club where has spent his entire career so far.
“I don’t know if I have to convince Messi (to stay),’ he said. ‘He is the best player in the world, and you always want to have him in your team.
“On my part, as a coach, I love working with Messi because he wins games. If he performs, I’ll be happy if he wants to stay.
“Starting today, I’ll talk to him. We are going to work and talk with several players. In the case of Messi, hopefully he will continue here for more years.
“If I say here what I am going to say, it would not be necessary for me to meet with him. I am the coach in order to make decisions.
“Once again, he has a year left on his contract. He is the important player you want in your team as a coach.”
While Koeman clearly sees Messi as an integral part of Barcelona’s future, there are other mainstays of the current squad who are likely to be told to find a new team.
Antoine Griezmann, Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and Jordi Alba are all expected to be moved on by Koeman as he plots a dramatic overhaul after inheriting the ruins of one of the most emphatic defeats in the club’s fabled history.
Suarez has been linked with a return to Ajax but it is believed he wants to stay and fight for his place in Spain.
In terms of arrivals, Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek – a player Koeman knows well from his time as Holland manager – has been linked with a switch to the Nou Camp in the summer transfer window.
Reports in Holland yesterday have also said Koeman is paying attention to Georginio Wijnaldum’s situation at Liverpool.
The 29-year-old midfielder, who also played under Koeman for Holland, has a year to go on his Anfield deal and Dutch outlet AD claim the Barcelona boss has told Wijnaldum not to sign a new contract as he lines up a move.
But for Barcelona supporters, it is the future of Messi that will be considered key. He has cut a frustrated figure for a while now at the Nou Camp, long before Bayern ripped Barca to shreds.
He hit out at ex-boss Setien and the direction he felt the club were drifting in when they surrendered their LaLiga title to fierce rivals Real Madrid this season with a 2-1 defeat at home to Osasuna.
“This game represents the entire year. We have been an erratic and weak team,” Messi said in the TV interview, just after the final whistle sounded at an empty Nou Camp.
“Madrid did its part by winning all its matches, which is impressive, but we also helped them to win this league. We have to be critical of how we have played, starting with the players, and the rest of the club.
“We have lost because of our mistakes and not because of Madrid’s successes, as many say.
“The feeling on this team is that it tries, but that it cannot get the job done. Today in the first half they were better than we were and it seems we have to fall behind to react like we tried to do in the second half.”
Messi then underlined the importance of Barcelona winning the Champions League and avenging the demons from dramatic defeats in previous seasons ahead of their last-16 tie against Napoli.
“Roma, Liverpool… the fans are running out of patience because we’re not giving them anything. If we want to fight for the Champions League, a lot has to change. Like this, we will lose to Napoli,” he said.
As it was, they overcame Napoli but Bayern Munich ruthlessly showed just how much work Koeman has on his hands to restore Barcelona to their former glories.