Madrid (AFP) – Lionel Messi’s former Barcelona coach Luis Enrique, now the boss of Spain, suggested on Saturday the club should have allowed the Argentina forward to leave.
“It’s a sensitive issue,” said Luis Enrique, ahead of Spain’s game against Ukraine on Sunday.
“I think clubs are above every player. Barcelona was founded in 1899 and is one of the best in the world, it has won titles forever.
“Clearly there has been a wonderful relationship. Leo has made Barca grow exponentially but I would have liked it a lot more if an agreement had been reached.”
Luis Enrique managed Messi at Barca from 2014 to 2017 and they won the treble together in 2015.
He added: “Sooner or later Messi will stop playing at Barca. The club will continue to win titles without Messi just as Messi will continue to be wonderful for many years if he leaves.”
Messi’s grudging acceptance that he will have to stay put after losing his stand-off with club president Josep Maria Bartomeu means his long-term future is still in doubt.
The 33-year-old was absent from training on Saturday.
He needs to pass the coronavirus test he skipped last weekend and could then join Ronald Koeman’s squad for their next session on Monday.
The team’s first friendly will be against third division Nastic on September 12.
Messi announced on Friday he would be reluctantly staying and launched a stinging attack on Bartomeu, claiming he had broken his word to let him leave.
The absence of any new contract means that even if he is not allowed to leave this summer, Messi could negotiate with other teams from January 1 and go for free when his current deal expires in July.
The feeling that Messi’s decision was by no means the end of the affair was clear in Spanish daily Marca’s headline: “Messi stays, the crisis too”.
Bartomeu could yet respond with his resignation, having previously indicated he would step down if Messi publicly said he was the problem and agreed to stay.
“It has been a long time since there has been a project or anything at all,” Messi said in what another sports daily Mundo Deportivo described as his “devastating” interview with website Goal on Friday.
“They are always juggling and plugging gaps.”
Messi believed he had a clause in his contract that meant he could leave for free at the end of last season but Barca said that option expired on June 10.
“The president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I wanted to go or if I wanted to stay and in the end he didn’t end up keeping his word,” Messi said.
“And this is the reason why I am going to continue in the club… because the president told me that the only way to leave was to pay the 700-million-euro release clause.”
He described that as “impossible”, adding that he could never take “the club that I love” to court.
Barcelona responded to Messi’s pledge by posting a picture of the striker on Instagram in the club’s new kit, with the caption: “I’m going to give my best. My love for Barça will never change”.
Messi had requested to leave the club he joined as a boy following Barcelona’s humiliating 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League, with Abu Dhabi-backed Manchester City the favourites to sign him.
His lawyers sent Barca a burofax on August 25 stating his intention to depart but Messi insisted he had he made his feelings clear to Bartomeu long before.
“I told the club, especially the president, that I wanted to go,” said Messi. “I’ve been telling him all year. I believed it was time to step aside.”
Barcelona ended the season without a trophy for the first time since 2008, which also extended Messi’s unsuccessful run in the Champions League to five years.
He has scored 634 goals and won 34 titles with the club he joined as a 13-year-old and where he came through the ranks at La Masia.
Despite his unhappiness at having to stay, he insists he will give his all for the team next season under Koeman, who is trying to overhaul the squad.
“I am going to continue at Barca and my attitude is not going to change, no matter how much I have wanted to go,” Messi said.
“There is a new coach and a new idea. That’s good, but then we have to see how the team responds and if it means we can compete or not. What I can say is that I’m staying and I’m going to give my best.”
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