Ronald Koeman says the situation with Ilaix Moriba at Barcelona is "horrible", claiming the teenager and his advisors are prioritising money over his career.

Moriba broke into the Barca first team in 2020-21, making 14 appearances in LaLiga and scoring his first goal as a substitute in the 2-0 win over Osasuna in March.

Barca have been in talks with the midfielder over a new contract, with his deal expiring next year, but little progress has been made in recent weeks.

Moriba was effectively sidelined for pre-season as the impasse continued and clubs began to be linked with offers, with Premier League sides including Manchester City and Liverpool said to be interested.

According to Sport, RB Leizpig have made an approach worth €8million, although Barca want closer to €15m if they are to sell.

The stand-off has left head coach Koeman deeply unimpressed as he believes Moriba should be a key part of the future of the first team.

"I talked with Ilaix two or three weeks ago. His situation, for me, is horrible," the Dutchman said on Friday.

"He's young. He's 18, he had the opportunity to play for Barca and he's the future of the club. And he doesn't play, he's not with us.

"At 18, the most important thing is to play, not money. But Ilaix and his people think differently. I'm disappointed with that because I believe more in football than in contracts.

"Money at 18 cannot be the most important thing."

 

Barca's spiralling levels of debt have made sales essential if Koeman wishes to add any further players to his squad.

Martin Braithwaite and Philippe Coutinho have both been tipped to leave but Koeman would prefer to keep them as he seeks ways to soften the blow left by the departure of Lionel Messi.

Clement Lenglet is also expected to stay, but Samuel Umtiti and Miralem Pjanic could be moved on.

"We're in a situation at the club where we listen to offers in a lot of cases, but Martin's doing well with us. I believe he has to stay," he said of Braithwaite.

"He's important for us. I like working with him a lot because he's disciplined and he accepts his role. He plays in different positions in attack and the other day we saw that he can score goals. We'll see."

On the defenders, he said: "I'm really happy to have five or six centre-backs. It's an important position for which there's a lot of competition, and we need them.

"Umtiti has fewer possibilities than the others. Lenglet is our only left-footer. He has a place and he'll have games. After the break, the matches start every three days and we need all the players.

"Pjanic and Umtiti will find it difficult to have minutes. The final decision is the player's, but they have a complicated situation, yes."

He added on Coutinho: "Philippe is out because I think he needs one more week of training and to be with the group before being added to the squad. And yes, I count on him because for me he's a great player.

"He can be important because he has effectiveness in his play. He can play in different positions. We need people like him.

"With Messi, we've lost a lot of goals and we have to look for goals in other players."

Koeman also revealed Pedri will play against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday but will then be given a two-week holiday following his exploits at Euro 2020 and then the Olympics with Spain.

"We've had time to think about what the best thing is for Pedri. We've decided that he'll play tomorrow, and then afterwards he'll have two weeks of holiday so he doesn't get to November or December overloaded," he said.

"I've spoken with [Spain coach] Luis Enrique. We'll give him two weeks of holiday because he needs it. It's impossible to endure what he's endured and he deserves a holiday of at least two weeks."

Antoine Griezmann is "happy and proud" after reaching 100 appearances for Barcelona and the French star is targeting history with the LaLiga giants.

Griezmann brought up his century of games in Sunday's 4-2 rout of Real Sociedad and almost marked the occasion with his 36th goal for Barca, only to be denied by the crossbar.

With big shoes to fill after the departure of Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain, Barca head coach Ronald Koeman will be hoping the forward can team up with recruit Memphis Depay to fire Barca back to the top of LaLiga.

Griezmann, who arrived from Atletico Madrid in 2019, told the club's media on Wednesday: "I am happy and proud to have reached this figure.

"It was very important to get a win in the first game with the fans back, who we haven't seen for so long. It was a good game and hopefully, we can now get another win against Athletic [Bilbao]."

Since arriving in 2019, no player has played more games for Barca, while only Messi (8003) and Marc-Andre ter Stegen (8040) have racked up more minutes than Griezmann's 7,497.

France international Griezmann sits behind Messi for goal involvements in that time, too, having recorded 51 direct involvements – 19 more than the departed third-place Luis Suarez, who fired Atletico to their first LaLiga title since 2013-14 last term.

Griezmann's returns do not just impress up against his team-mates, though, given only Suarez (42), Villarreal's Gerard Moreno (51) and Real Madrid star Karim Benzema (59) have scored more among LaLiga forwards since the Frenchman's switch to Barca.

While Griezmann remains a long way behind his 94 goals for Diego Simeone's Atletico, his 20 goals across all competitions last season – the same as his goal involvements in LaLiga – did see him finish as Barca's second-highest goalscorer.

 

Having not added to his 35-goal tally yet this campaign, that return means he is 14 goals away from Thierry Henry (49) as the highest-scoring Frenchman for Koeman's side, Ludovic Giuly third with 26.

However, it is not just his finishing abilities that standout during his Camp Nou career.

Only Messi (233) and Jordi Alba (131) have created more chances than Griezmann (107), who also ranks third at the club behind the same pair for 'big' chances created, defined by Opta, with 26.

In a side dependent on the link-up play of their forwards to unleash the likes of Ansu Fati, Alba and Ousmane Dembele, it is apparent why Koeman has challenged the 30-year-old to improve on those figures to be the spearhead and guide his team to glory.

Nevertheless, the former Sociedad man is looking forward to continuing life at Camp Nou.

"I hope I get to play another 100 games and carry on giving everything to make history with this club," Griezmann added. "I want to keep helping the team both on and off the pitch, in attack and defence, and enjoying being at Barca."

Ronald Koeman believes Barcelona played their best football in "years" during the opening hour of their first LaLiga game since Lionel Messi's exit as they saw off Real Sociedad 4-2.

Martin Braithwaite's brace after Gerard Pique had opened the scoring gave Barca a three-goal advantage with 59 minutes played in Sunday's contest at Camp Nou.

Julen Lobete and Mikel Oyarzabal scored quickfire goals to set up a nervy conclusion to the game, but Sergi Roberto struck in injury time to seal a deserved win for the home side.

It was the perfect way for the Catalan giants to put the shock of losing their all-time leading goalscorer Messi to Paris Saint-Germain on a free contract this week behind them.

And while Koeman would prefer to still have Messi in his squad, the Dutchman feels Barca proved there is life without their former captain as they outclassed La Real.

"We know that we are good with the ball, but we have worked hard on pressing and to do so with everyone," Koeman said during his post-match news conference. 

"We have to be more collective than before. For me, the team in the first half hour was the best Barca in years. It is the path we want to follow.

"I would like to have Messi in the team. Of course we don't have the player who decides games on his own, but this is more about the collective now.

"We have to create opportunities to score. Today we scored four so it's fine."

Pique got the ball rolling for Barcelona with his 19th-minute opener, heading in a pinpoint free-kick sent in by Memphis Depay on his competitive debut for the club.

Depay, Eric Garcia and Rey Manaj could only be registered by Barca on Saturday after Pique accepted a substantial pay cut to ensure they met LaLiga's salary cap limit.

Pique celebrated his goal by kissing the Barcelona crest on his shirt and Koeman hailed the long-serving defender for putting the team first.

"For me, Pique was also the team leader last year," Koeman said. "Due to injuries he couldn't play as much as he would have liked. He has been exemplary for all the Catalans."

 

Braithwaite was Barcelona's star performer in their opening match of the 2021-22 campaign with his two goals, which makes him the first Danish player to score a brace in LaLiga this century.

His double came from an expected goals return of 0.89 and Koeman expects the 30-year-old to play an important role this campaign, despite being heavily linked with a move away from Camp Nou.

"I have always said that he is a great example of a professional soccer player," Koeman said. "He always works for the team and he has improved his game – not only because of the goals. 

"He helps us in many areas. He also has speed and always he is very difficult to defend against. I am delighted to have players like him."

Barcelona are now unbeaten in their last 11 league games against Real Sociedad in LaLiga, but tougher tests lie in wait with Sevilla and Atletico Madrid to come in their next seven games.

Following a period of doom and gloom, Koeman is hoping for a positive future with returning supporters fully behind their side.

"We know that the season is very long and many things can happen," Koeman added. "If the fans see a team with enthusiasm, that tries to do things well, with a positive attitude, that always helps. 

"We need the fans. We have to leave them happy and I think they have gone home happy today."

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman has called on Antoine Griezmann to step up this season and help fill the void left by Lionel Messi.

The Catalan giants are still coming to terms with the loss of their all-time leading scorer, who officially joined Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer this week.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi scored 672 goals and assisted 265 more for Barca across 778 appearances in his 17 years in the first team.

He directly contributed to 39 goals in LaLiga last season, scoring 30 and setting up a further nine.

Griezmann was the only other Barca player to reach double figures for goal involvements (20), with Ousmane Dembele next on the list with nine.

As they prepare to begin a first season without Messi since 2003-04, Koeman has challenged World Cup winner Griezmann to improve on those figures.

"I love working with him," Koeman said at a news conference ahead of Sunday's opening fixture against Real Sociedad. "He is a team player who always helps without the ball.

"He is always happy and encourages others. But he must take another step and be more effective. It will be more important without Leo, because he occupied that position."

 

Messi's departure came after Barca had agreed deals with Memphis Depay and Sergio Aguero, the pair arriving on free transfers from Lyon and Manchester City respectively.

Aguero did not feature for Barca in pre-season and is out for another 10 weeks through injury, but Depay has made a positive impression with three goals in four friendlies.

"I know Memphis well from our time with the Netherlands national team," Koeman said. "He has been effective with his performances so far.

"We have lost a lot with Leo leaving and now we ask for more from the others, and not just the forwards. We will try our best to improve and achieve our targets."

Barca received a big boost on the eve of their season opener with Sociedad as it was confirmed Depay, Eric Garcia and Rey Manaj have been officially registered to play.

Ansu Fati is out until after the September international break, however, while Ousmane Dembele and Aguero are also nursing injuries, leaving Koeman light in attack.

Barca's well-documented financial problems make bringing in new players difficult, but Koeman is hopeful of another new striker arriving before the transfer window closes.

"We lack players, and some are still injured," he said. "The squad is short. That's why we need a striker. 

"But then it depends on whether we can sign the player. It depends on the Financial Fair Play issues. If we can, we will sign someone."

Sunday's clash with Sociedad will mark the first time Barcelona have played a competitive game in front of fans at Camp Nou in 17 months, with up to 30,000 expected to be in attendance.

It will be an emotional occasion in more ways than one as Barca begin a new chapter without the greatest player in their history.

"Messi's exit was painful for everyone because of everything he has done," Koeman said. "We have to live the today and not the past. I am excited and hopefully the fans are too.

"I am excited to play in front of our fans, though we know the quality of the opponent, who we played against many times last year."

Barca are unbeaten in their past 10 league games against Real Sociedad in LaLiga (W8 D2). Only once have they gone 11 league matches without defeat in this fixture, a run of 17 games between 1952 and 1960.

Barcelona have finally registered new signings Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia after Gerard Pique agreed to a "substantial" pay cut.

The Catalans have faced well-documented financial problems, leading to the exit of all-time leading scorer Lionel Messi this week and leaving them unable to officially add players to their squad.

However, Messi's switch to Paris Saint-Germain and Pique's willingness to accept a reduced wage ensures that Barcelona now meet LaLiga's salary cap limit.

And on the eve of Sunday's opening LaLiga clash with Real Sociedad, Barca announced Depay and Garcia, as well as striker Rey Manaj, are all able to play competitive football.

A statement on Barcelona's website on Saturday read: "FC Barcelona is able to register Memphis, Eric Garcia and Rey Manaj to play in the Spanish Liga de Futbol Profesional. 

"This has been made possible thanks to an agreement with Gerard Pique whereby the Barca second captain's salary has been substantially reduced.

"This means that all of the first team players will be available for selection by Ronald Koeman for this Sunday's opening Liga fixture against Real Sociedad."

Barcelona added that they are working closely with Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets to adapt the pair's salaries as they look to further reduce their wage bill.

Both players are "totally and utterly willing to cooperate" with Barca, who have also offloaded Jean-Clair Todibo, Junior Firpo, Konrad De la Fuente and Matheus Fernandes during the close season.

Ronald Koeman, speaking at a news conference on Saturday ahead of the visit of Sociedad, praised Barca's long-serving players for helping the club during a difficult period.

"We know perfectly well the financial situation of the club and it needs help in every way," Koeman said. 

"The attitude of Gerard, [Sergi] Roberto, Busquets and Alba must be highlighted. Those who have been here for many years want to help the club improve the economic situation.

"It is important and shows that they are people from home."

Sergio Aguero has yet to be registered by Barca, but the LaLiga giants are in no rush to do so as the Argentina international has been ruled out for 10 weeks through injury.

Barca's other recent arrival Emerson Royal is believed to already be registered as he is returning from a loan spell with Real Betis.

Ronald Koeman believes Barcelona have a strong enough squad to compete for major honours as long as others step up to fill the void left by Lionel Messi.

Barca are heading into a new season without Messi in their ranks for the first time since 2003-04 following the superstar forward's shock switch to Paris Saint-Germain this week.

Messi scored 672 goals and assisted 265 more for the Catalan giants across 778 appearances, helping the club to 35 trophies across his 17 years in the first team.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner directly contributed to 39 goals in LaLiga last season – scoring 30 and setting up a further nine.

Antoine Griezmann was the only other player to reach double figures for goal involvements (20), with Ousmane Dembele next on the list with nine.

Ansu Fati and Philippe Coutinho had a combined four goals and assists each – the same number as Martin Braithwaite – in what was an injury hit campaign for the pair.

Each of those players remain at Camp Nou, while Memphis Depay and Sergio Aguero have been signed as a free agents, though the latter has been ruled out for 10 weeks with a calf injury and neither has yet been officially registered as Barca continue to struggle financially.

And with Fati and Coutinho closing in on returns to action, Koeman has underlined the strength of his squad even without Messi around.

"Of course we will have more difficulties to score goals," he told ESPN. "Messi scored 30 goals last season.

"Other players need to bring more and take the next step and it's more about the team now than individual players.

"It's not always one player, you have to do it together. Hopefully, we get players back from injury like Fati and Coutinho and then we still have a strong squad. 

"We will work harder, we will do more to achieve what people expect from us. We are still in the transition. We have to understand that the start of this season is difficult.

"We still have COVID, for all the clubs, but still we have players with injuries so we cannot put all the players for playing because we are still missing good players. 

"We had a good pre-season, we have young players in, but if we get all the players back from injury the squad is still a strong one."

Barcelona finished third in LaLiga last season – their lowest finish in 13 years – and exited the Champions League to PSG at the last-16 stage.

The Catalans did manage to win the Copa del Rey in Koeman's first campaign in charge, though, and the Dutchman is out to win more silverware in 2021-22.

"The goal is always winning trophies, being champions, to have a good run in the Champions League," Koeman said. 

"Clubs like Barcelona don't have seasons out of winning something. We know that, and the football people will understand it will be more difficult. 

"It's all about working rate and the team and we can make a step forward."

 

The shock exit of Messi will undoubtedly take time for Barca to fully get over, but Koeman reiterated the importance of moving on as quickly as possible.

"We have to understand that there is always an end for a player," the Dutchman added. "You have to close the book because now we have to focus on this new season.

"We have new players in and we have to move forward, and we have time for that. We have young players in the squad this season, and it's also for the future.

"We are working on the future of this club, and it's really important to have our focus on this and not focus on what happened in the last few days."

Messi looked set to sign a new contract with Barca, but the cash-strapped club were unable to fulfil the agreement in place with their greatest ever player.

"I knew there was a difficult situation between the club and Leo Messi and the league to have the possibilities to keep Messi in the club," Koeman said.

"It takes a long time, but I was surprised by the day and the moment I heard that he was finished playing for Barcelona. I knew the financial situation of the club made it difficult.

"I think it was difficult because we are not just talking about any player, we are talking about Leo Messi, the best player in the world through a lot of seasons.

"We were all disappointed that he will not play for us this season. But okay, you have to change fast because you don't stay in the disappointment with the new season starting. 

"You have to understand it was for a few days a difficult situation. Messi meant so much for this club."

To paraphrase the apocryphal question asked of Abraham Lincoln's widow, "Aside than that, Mr Laporta, how was the lunch?"

When Lionel Messi jetted into El-Prat last Wednesday, it was to complete the formalities of a long-awaited contract extension that would commit him to the club of his life for the rest of his career.

At least, that's what the six-time Ballon d'Or winner and pretty much everyone else thought until he sat down for lunch with club president Joan Laporta on Thursday. After that, all hell broke loose.

"We had everything agreed but, at the last minute, it couldn't happen," he said at his tearful Sunday news conference, with the rampaging shambles of Barca's financial, internal and political affairs having put paid to the best laid plans.

Messi is now a Paris Saint-Germain player. It will be a jarring thing to type and read for some time, and the claims, counter-claims and recriminations over how Barcelona allowed things to reach this point of collapse will rumble on for some time.

It feels like a barely relevant sidenote that four days on from their greatest ever player addressing the media and being paraded around Paris, Barcelona will host Real Sociedad to begin their LaLiga campaign. What, if anything, can Ronald Koeman and his players salvage from the wreckage?

 

The Barcelona Way

The delayed election campaign that secured Laporta's return to the top job – his initial term between 2003 and 2010 having overseen the transformative tenures of Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola – was a fraught one for Koeman.

Victor Font, one of Laporta's rival candidates, pledged to bring in club great Xavi if he was successful, while the eventual winner's support for Koeman was tenuous and conditional at best.

After a chaotic 2019-20 season, where Ernesto Valverde's lamentable sacking cleared the way for Quique Setien to surrender LaLiga to Real Madrid and oversee the humiliating 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals, Koeman was not a universally popular choice and easily viewed a stop-gap appointment.

Whereas Messi wanted to stay but had to leave this time around, last August he wanted to leave but had to stay – relations with Laporta's predecessor Josep Maria Bartomeu having broken down. On the field, the Blaugrana were inevitably a little bit all over the place.

But after a chastening 2-1 loss to Cadiz on December 5, Barcelona and a rejuvenated Messi went 19 games unbeaten in LaLiga. It was almost enough for an unlikely title success, but the run ended with a 2-1 defeat away to Real Madrid on April 10.

Koeman lost both Clasicos and his Barca only took a point from Atletico Madrid, failing to score in either game against the eventual champions. There were heavy Champions League losses to Juventus and PSG, and Koeman's record in big games was and is an obvious concern.

Yet, it was fairly bizarre to see the Dutchman treated with such disregard during the electioneering, which ran parallel to the long undefeated streak. After tinkering with various formations earlier in the season, Koeman had settled upon a 3-4-3 in which his team thrived.

Nevertheless, in May, it was reported by Mundo Deportivo that Laporta demanded Koeman commit to Barca's classic 4-3-3 and brand of football married to the club's traditions. A stay of execution would be dependent upon one of Johan Cruyff's former disciples committing to the Barcelona Way.

Back to the future

Looking at their performances from last season, it is easy enough to spot elements of classical Barcelona in Koeman's side.

They scored the most goals in LaLiga and had the highest expected goals (xG) figure of any team, indicating they cumulatively created a better quality of chances than their rivals.

The way they got to this point was also very Barca.

No side in LaLiga had a higher average sequence time than the Blaugrana's 14.27 seconds, while their average of 5.52 passes per sequence was also a league best. They were the only team to average above five.

In terms of sequences featuring 10 or more passes, they were streets ahead with 910. The next most 10+ pass sequences came from Madrid with 662. As a consequence, Barcelona also ranked top for build-up attacks – open-play sequences of 10 or more passes that end either with a shot or a touch in the opposition box.

Now as then in the glory days of Guardiola, you spend a lot of time chasing the ball against Barcelona.

Pedri enjoyed a breakout campaign so good he's only just been allowed to finish it, shining for Spain at Euro 2020 and the Olympic Games, while the evergreen Sergio Busquets ticked away in his customary style to average 95.52 passes per game. The next best midfielder in LaLiga on that metric was Madrid's Toni Kroos on 85.76.

 

Frenkie de Jong developed a knack of chiming in with some important goals from midfield after the turn of the year, while also showing his versatility by slotting into the back three when injuries and circumstances required.

Consider the presence of Riqui Puig and teenage sensation Gavi and the "take the ball, pass the ball" part of the Cruyffian legacy remains in safe hands, albeit with the fairly large assumption that there remains room for all of them on the accounts.

Pressing concerns

The other key facet of the teams in which Messi rose to his place at the top of the world game was their work without the ball.

Teams being at their most vulnerable in transition is now an accepted reality of the modern game, but Guardiola's Barcelona swarming opponents as soon as they lost the ball altered perceptions of what was required of elite teams in terms of intelligent commitment to the cause.

Barca operated under their six-second rule, which had nothing to do with anybody dropping food on the floor. They attempted to retrieve possession within six seconds of losing it via immediate and intensive pressing. If this was not possible, they would fall back into a defensive shape to guard against opponents now settled in possession and more able to play through the press.

Pressing methods and teams' aptitude in dealing with them have obviously evolved since Barcelona scared the life out of European football a little over a decade ago, but the principles remain. If a team wishes to play a high-possession game with a high defensive line, their defending from the front as to be impeccable.

In 2020-21, Koeman's side were merely quite good in this regard. Passes per defensive action (PPDA) is a metric that indicates how well a team presses. The lower the average number of passes an opponent is allowed to make outside the pressing team's defensive third before being met with a defensive action – such as a tackle, interception or a foul – the better the press.

Barca's 10.6 PPDA put them sixth best in LaLiga last season, below Celta Vigo, Real Sociedad, Sevilla, Getafe and Real Betis. Although they scored the most goals from high turnovers (seven), this can be attributed to the sharp finishing of Messi and others, as their 37 shot-ending high turnovers were only the eighth highest.

They are not numbers that suggest Laporta's fantasy of seeing a whirring 4-3-3 back in motion is one grounded in reality. By comparison, Luis Enrique's "MSN" Barca of 2014-15 averaged a staggering 7.0 PPDA. Had Messi remained, his capacity to do this sort of work is diminished, but that is now a puzzle for Mauricio Pochettino to solve.

Messi's great friend Sergio Aguero is one of the attacking reinforcements, although a calf injury means he will be sidelined for 10 weeks. If the masterful Argentina striker's body still allowed him to press with suitable intensity, he would probably still be with Guardiola at Manchester City.

 

Memphis Depay is fit to start the new season and some of the onus will fall upon the Netherlands international to sharpen Barca up a little.

He comes from a Lyon side who forced more shot-ending high turnovers than any other in Ligue 1 last season (62), while his 25 instances of winning possession back in the final third placed him joint fifth among forwards in the French top-flight. 

Antoine Griezmann won the ball 24 times deep in opposition territory last term in LaLiga, alongside 37 tackles and 100 recoveries, all of which were highs among Barca forward. He and Depay could certainly prove a useful nuisance in tandem.

Getting on with the job

Of course, it is not entirely certain Barcelona will be able to register Depay with LaLiga in time to face Real Sociedad, such is their parlous financial state.

Laporta claims this will not be a problem. But then, he said he'd re-sign Messi and essentially ran for election on a pledge he spectacularly failed to fulfil.

If it turns out Barca passed up on Messi because they decided to reject LaLiga's deal with CVC Capital Partners and its associated cash injection in favour of remaining in cahoots with Real Madrid and Florentino Perez's doomed Super League project, it's unlikely holding Laporta to account over whether or not Koeman plays 4-3-3 will be the top of anyone's agenda. It should be noted Madrid president Perez said it was "impossible" for him to have had such an influence, in response to allegations levelled by former Espai Barca Commission member Jaume Llopis.

One of the major reservations surrounding Koeman's appointment was whether he was the man to win Messi more Champions Leagues, with the clock ticking on the great man's career.

 

This might feel like an absurd grasp for positives and Koeman would be better off if the greatest player of all time was in his squad, but he is at least without one of the big over-arching narratives that Barca have specialised in both constructing and crushing themselves with over recent years.

Valverde was saddled with "only" winning LaLiga as European glory painfully slipped away. If Koeman can wrest back domestic control in these conditions, it would be recognised as a brilliant achievement in its own right. The atmosphere among fans back in Camp Nou might be perilous in the initial post-Messi weeks, but a few wins will place a defiant siege mentality within reach.

Since Cruyff was appointed head coach in 1988, this will be the first season without the late Dutch master, Guardiola or Messi – those three giants of the modern Barcelona – having any active association with the club. It is time for an institution on its knees to let go and turn the page.

Koeman put together a team that functioned well amid considerable turbulence last season and should be allowed to improve upon that template with the fine players that still remain, free from any Mes Que Un Club self-flagellation as Laporta tends to the dumpster fire he inherited and chucked a vat of petrol all over last week.

Gerard Pique has put Lionel Messi's imminent departure from Barcelona down to the former board's poor running of the club.

The Catalan giants announced in a shock statement on Thursday that Messi will not be extending his 21-year stay at Camp Nou due to the club's dire financial situation.

Messi, who scored 672 times in 778 appearances for the LaLiga side, is now expected to complete a free transfer to Paris Saint-Germain.

Despite the Argentina international agreeing to take a 50 per cent pay cut, Barcelona were unable to honour the new contract agreed with him due to LaLiga's salary cap limit.

Barca are estimated to be in around €1.2billion of debt, a hangover from the previous Josep Maria Bartomeu regime which spanned from 2014 until 2020 when he was ousted.

Pique has spent the last 13 years playing alongside Messi and believes the situation could have been avoided.

"This has not been one of the best days for us. We have lost the best of all time," Pique said following Barca's 3-0 win over Juventus in Sunday's Joan Gamper Trophy clash at Estadi Johan Cruyff.

"We knew this day would arrive, but the team was still touched, especially those of us who spent many years sharing a dressing room with him.

"The management of recent years has not been the best and that has penalised us."

 

Messi's name was chanted throughout the prestigious friendly with Juve, with goals from Memphis Depay, Martin Braithwaite and Riqui Puig earning Barca a routine victory.

Ronald Koeman spoke ahead of the game about an exciting future despite the loss of Messi and reiterated after the victory that it is important his side put the saga behind them.

"It is normal that when a player like Messi leaves it will be hard for everyone, but we have to turn the page because we cannot change this situation," he said.

"You have to play well and win, work more. Others can occupy that position and have a leading role. But we will no longer have Leo. We have to turn the page and be hopeful."

Messi's departure could have a knock-on impact for Koeman, with fellow Argentina international Sergio Aguero reportedly looking to leave Camp Nou before kicking a ball.

Aguero was ruled out of Barca's final pre-season outing with a calf problem, but Koeman denied suggestions the striker wants to terminate the contract signed just last month.

"That is not true," Koeman said. "He has signed and is excited. It is a pity that he was injured this morning. 

"We have to wait for his recovery. It happened in training. We know that when he is fit he can contribute a lot."

Among a number of positives on the field for Koeman during pre-season has been the form of new signing Depay, who took just three minutes to open the scoring against Juve.

The Netherlands international has three goals in four matches since arriving on a free transfer from Lyon, emphasising Koeman's point of there being life after Messi.

"Memphis showed again today that he can be very effective," Koeman said. "We know we must score more and the squad must improve.

"The best in the world will be missed, but you have to accept it. We are not living in the past. There is a future for this team.

"This result against Juventus was very good and achieved by playing some good football. We have taken another step and will only get better when other players return."

Ronald Koeman is excited about what the future holds for Barcelona despite the departure of superstar forward Lionel Messi.

Messi is bringing an end to his 21-year association with Barca as the Catalan giants were unable to honour the new contract agreed with him due to LaLiga's salary cap limit.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner became a free agent on July 1 and confirmed at an emotional news conference on Sunday that joining Paris Saint-Germain "is a possibility".

Barcelona will head into the new campaign without Messi for the first time since 2003-04, but Koeman is remaining upbeat regarding his side's prospects.

Speaking ahead of Sunday's Joan Gamper Trophy match with Juventus at Estadi Johan Cruyff, the Dutchman said: "Despite Messi's farewell, we are excited about this season.

"With the signings made and the youngsters, who are the future of this club, we have a great squad. We are convinced we will provide the fans with many joys this season.

"With some help and sacrifice we will achieve the maximum. We know what it means to be from Barcelona and what this club represents."

 

Messi leaves a huge void for Barca to fill, the Argentina international having scored 672 goals in 778 games for the Catalans in all competitions, as well as providing 265 assists.

That amounts to 937 goal involvements during his Barca career, which began as a 17-year-old in 2004.

Among an array of other achievements and personal honours, Messi is LaLiga's all-time top scorer with 474 goals and is the second-highest scorer ever in Europe's top five leagues behind Cristiano Ronaldo (476).

Sergio Busquets, who takes over the captain's armband permanently following Messi's exit, paid his own tribute to his team-mate of 13 years.

"For me, it is an honour to be the captain of Barca, the best club in the world," he said on the pitch ahead of the Juventus match.

"I have had great examples such as [Carles] Puyol, Xavi, Andres [Iniesta] and Leo. I will try to be up to the task. 

"I want to make a special mention for Leo. Thank you for taking Barca to the top, making history, being the best in the world, breaking all individual and collective records. 

"We will miss you a lot. Eternal thanks, Leo. Now a new season begins, full of emotion, and we will fight for all the objectives together with you [the fans]. We need you more than ever."

Ronald Koeman proclaimed Lionel Messi to be the "best player in the world" after it was confirmed the Barcelona legend will be leaving the club.

Messi enjoyed an outstanding career at Camp Nou, scoring 672 times in 778 appearances, but his time with the LaLiga giants ended abruptly this week due to Barca's dire financial situation.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner was expected to sign a new contract, having become a free agent on July 1, before Thursday's announcement shocked the football world.

Koeman, who managed the forward during the 2020-21 campaign, joined a host of football's big names in paying tribute to Messi.

"Still hard to understand that you will not play for [Barcelona] anymore," the head coach wrote on Instagram. "Thanks for everything you have done for our club. I really enjoyed the full season we worked together.

"I am impressed with your work ethic and desire to win. It makes you the best player in the world. For now, I wish you and your family the best!"

With Messi expected to move to Paris Saint-Germain, Koeman must prepare for life without the four-time Champions League winner.

Memphis Depay and Antoine Griezmann will have incredibly large shoes to fill in the 2021-22 campaign, while Barca players past and present used social media to praise their former team-mate.

Gerard Pique, who won the treble with Messi in his first season back at the Catalan club, posted on Instagram that "nothing will ever be the same again" following the end of an era.

"Now you are leaving, but I know that one day you will come back," the centre-back continued. "There are pending things to do. Have fun, enjoy wherever you go and keep winning as only you know how to do. Here we will miss you. I love you Leo."

Luis Suarez, formerly part of the formidable trio with Messi and Neymar, pipped Barca to the title with Atletico Madrid last term but he too revealed his admiration for the "best player ever".

"I will always be grateful for how you received me since I arrived because of what a great human being you are," Suarez wrote.

"Proud to have shared thousands of wonderful moments at [Barcelona] and to be lucky to have played with you. I sincerely hope that what happens in the future is the best for you and your family. I love you so much."

Despite only playing for two campaigns with Messi, Barca youngster Ansu Fati used his Instagram account to say farewell to his captain.

"All the boys who come to the Masia dream of being able to play with you, I feel lucky to have fulfilled it," Fati posted. "I wanted to thank you these two years for your gestures of affection towards me and for everything I learned.

"[Messi] my family and I will always be eternally grateful, I wish you and yours all the best."

Ronald Koeman was delighted with the connection between Memphis Depay and Antoine Griezmann during Barcelona’s 3-0 win over Stuttgart on Saturday.

Barca maintained their perfect pre-season record, making it three wins from three at the Mercedes-Benz Arena.

Depay, who joined the La Liga giants on a free transfer in June after his departure from Lyon, opened the scoring against the Bundesliga outfit in emphatic fashion after 21 minutes.

The Dutchman controlled Frenkie de Jong’s diagonal ball into the box, before flicking it over the head of defender Pascal Stenzel and firing past Fabian Bredlow in the Stuttgart goal.

Following his second goal in as many games, Depay then played a key role as Barca doubled the lead 15 minutes later - a clever backheel releasing Griezmann to cross for youngster Yusuf Demir to tap home.

Koeman praised the impact of his compatriot and was particularly impressed by his link-up with the France star.

"Surely people know what Memphis is about," he said.

"He has been at [Manchester] United, the last few years at Lyon and above all, he has shown himself to be a goalscorer. 

"He showed [that quality] with his goal, strength and speed he brings to the team.

"His connection with Antoine is very good and that gives us a lot.

"They are two players who can play in different positions in the attack. We're going to have competition."

Memphis Depay is confident he can form a balanced front three with Lionel Messi and fellow new signing Sergio Aguero at Barcelona.

Netherlands attacker Depay joined Barca as a free agent when his Lyon contract expired on July 1 and scored a penalty on his debut in Saturday's 3-1 friendly win over Girona.

The 27-year-old got his career back on track at Lyon following a disappointing spell with Manchester United, scoring 76 goals in 178 appearance for the Ligue 1 side.

Depay played mainly as a centre-forward in the French top flight last season and scored 20 goals – only Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe (27) netted more.

He also showed his ability to create for others by laying on 12 assists and creating 94 chances, which were more than any other player managed in Ligue 1 in 2020-21.

And the PSV academy product believes he is capable of playing with ex-Manchester City striker Aguero and Messi, who is expected to sign a new deal to remain at Camp Nou.

"We are all attackers, but we are all different in my opinion," Depay told Sport. "I have different abilities and strengths than Aguero, for example, or any other player.

"I think the three of us are compatible and different. But we will see how everything goes.

"It would be amazing to play with Messi and I hope that is possible. He has a number of qualities that the team needs and it's important to build everything around that.

"There is a lot of talent here. It would be great to play alongside him and win titles."

 

Depay previously played under Barca head coach Ronald Koeman for the Netherlands national side and is glad to have reunited with his compatriot in Catalonia.

"He has had a great impact on me," Depay said. "He changed the Netherlands team and counted on me, giving me confidence. 

"Now he is counting on me for this adventure, so he has undoubtedly been an important figure in my career.

"I know him and how he trains, so it's easier for me to adapt. I know what he expects of me after working together for a long time.

"Even with him on the bench it will obviously not be easy, but without him it would have been different."

Depay has been labelled a "rebellious" figure during his career to date but, citing comparisons to former Barca player Luis Suarez, is not fazed by that tag.

"I think 'rebellious' is often used as a negative, but sometimes you can use it as a good thing," he said. 

"Sometimes if you are rebellious on the field it can give you something extra and help you win the game. 

"For example, Luis Suarez has won many games and scored many goals without being the nicest and sweetest person in the world. 

"Maybe because of my appearance people may think that I am a rebellious boy. When you meet me, you see that I am a normal guy, like any other person. 

"Maybe I'm a little different because of the way I express myself, how I make music. I may be more misunderstood for that. 

"But boy, I don't mind being called a rebel. People have a feeling about me that may either be very good or they may not like. 

"The truth is that everyone is free to create their own opinion, their image."

New Barcelona signing Memphis Depay is relishing the chance to link up with Lionel Messi, who he believes showed at the Copa America why he is still the world's best player.

Netherlands international Depay joined Barca as a free agent when his Lyon contract expired on July 1 and was officially unveiled at Camp Nou on Thursday.

While the 27-year-old is excited to begin a new chapter in his career at Barca, club legend Messi's future is less clear as he has yet to sign a new deal and is now a free agent.

But the six-time Ballon d'Or winner is reportedly close to agreeing a long-term contract with the Spanish giants that will keep him tied down to the club until 2026.

Messi is currently on an extended break after inspiring Argentina to their first Copa America crown since 1993 earlier this month.

He scored four goals and provided five assists to win the Golden Boot and his maiden piece of silverware while representing his country at senior level.

Depay is hopeful Messi will soon put pen to paper so he can fulfil a dream of playing alongside the superstar forward.

"He is a legend and the best player in the world," Depay said at his unveiling. "Did you see what he did in the Copa America?

"I really want to play with Leo. His qualities with the ball are undeniable. As long as I make the runs, I know the ball will come. I am a great fan of his.

"Yesterday I had a tour of the museum and saw all of the Ballon d'Or awards he has won. He probably has another one coming, too. It's going to be a dream for me."

 

After a short break following the Netherlands' last-16 exit to the Czech Republic at Euro 2020 last month, Depay arrived in Catalonia on Monday to begin pre-season training.

The Dutchman got his career back on track at Lyon following a disappointing spell with Manchester United, scoring 76 goals in 178 appearances for the Ligue 1 side.

He enjoyed an impressive final season in the French top flight with 20 goals, trailing only Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe (27).

The former PSV youth product's 12 assists and 94 chances created, meanwhile, were more than any other player managed in Ligue 1 in 2020-21.

After months of drawn-out speculation, Depay is pleased to have finally completed a switch to Barcelona this month.

"It's an honour to be here, a dream come true," he said. "Since I was little I dreamed of it. The conversations have been long, but the will has always been there.

"At last I am here. Everyone who is present knows the importance of the club around the world, of how great it is and the impact it has.

"At 27 years of age achieving my dream is surprising and fantastic. I really want to start playing. 

"The team is ready for the new season, we are rested and the time has come to go back to work and pick up trophies."

Koeman previously managed Depay while in charge of the Netherlands, but the former Man Utd attacker insists his compatriot was not a deciding factor in leaving Lyon for Barca.

"I would have come even if he was not here because you don't say no to Barca," he said. "I would have come anyway, but it is also true that the coach has had a great impact. 

"I know him well. He played me as a forward with the national team. He has made me feel comfortable because I started playing better."

Depay is one of three free agents to have joined the cash-strapped Catalans this window, along with former Manchester City pair Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia.

Asked if he is concerned by Barca's financial problems, which have not been helped by the coronavirus pandemic, Depay said: "No. I am focused only on the game. 

"I cannot focus on that. The business part is something the president [Joan Laporta] and the board will take care of. When fans are back in the stadium the situation will improve."

Ronald Koeman was left feeling positive for the future after Barcelona kicked off their pre-season campaign with a hard-fought 4-0 win over 10-man Gimnastic at the Estadi Johan Cruyff.

Albania striker Rey Manaj, who has never played a competitive game for Barca and is expected to move on this window, scored a second-half hat-trick in Wednesday's friendly in front of around 2,000 supporters.

Alex Collado netted the other goal for Barcelona, but the game was not as one-sided as the scoreline suggests as three of the four goals were scored in the final five minutes.

Koeman named a different line-up in each half, with the likes of Sergino Dest, Gerard Pique, Miralem Pjanic, Sergi Roberto, Riqui Puig and Samuel Umtiti starting the game.

New signing Yusuf Demir, brought in on an initial loan from Rapid Vienna and described as the 'Austrian Messi' for his playing style, also played his first 45 minutes for the Catalan giants.

The second half saw a far more inexperienced side fielded and contained just one player, goalscorer Collado, with a competitive appearance for Barca under his belt.

Manaj stole the show with his three goals, the pick of those an angled finish into the roof of the net as Gimnastic, who had Alex Quintanilla sent off in the first half, started to tire.

Without Lionel Messi as the superstar forward delays signing a new contract, as well as new signings Eric Garcia, Sergio Aguero and Memphis Depay, Koeman was pleased with what he saw.

"The important thing is that everyone has played 45 minutes; it is something important for the physical side of things," he told Barca TV. 

"We dominated and we got a good result. The game leaves positive feelings.

"My players have returned well. They also trained hard this morning – it's all about getting fit. With two different teams, everyone has had a chance to show their quality.

"It goes without saying that there are certain names that stood out."

Following a season played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, Wednesday's game marked the first time Koeman has managed Barca in front of a home crowd.

"It was strange having people here, but thank goodness they were here," the Dutchman said. 

"I love that there is an audience and also the players do too. They helped us. We really needed it."

Barca have tougher tests to come than third-tier Gimnastic, with Girona up next on Saturday before facing Stuttgart and Salzburg in Germany and Austria respectively.

"On Saturday we will have more players available," Koeman added. "We have a little time now to train all together. 

"In Germany we will have good games, against high-level rivals, where we can draw good conclusions."

Ronald Koeman believes Spain should have given Barcelona teenager Pedri a rest rather than call him up for the Olympic Games.

The midfielder was a key part of the Spain squad that reached the semi-finals of Euro 2020, becoming the first ever player to start six games in a single European Championship or World Cup aged 18 or below.

Instead of being given time off before the start of Barcelona's LaLiga campaign, Pedri is in Japan for the Olympic football tournament.

Spain play their first game in Group C against Egypt on July 22 before fixtures with Argentina and Australia.

Koeman told a media conference: "Pedri has played a lot. We will have to give him a break, everyone needs it during the [European] summer. 

"As Pep Guardiola said, playing two important tournaments in the summer is too much, but we can't do anything. 

"Pedri's European Championship was phenomenal. At the age of 18 he has played almost all the complete matches, with an impressive maturity. 

"His football continues to improve and he is a very honest and calm boy. He lives for football. He is an example of how to be a young man at Barca.

"It is important for our grassroots football, that young people see that they are in a club that gives them opportunities."

 

Also in Spain's squad for the tournament is defender Eric Garcia, who re-joined Barca from Manchester City on a free transfer.

Koeman tipped the 20-year-old former Barca academy player to have a big impact on the first team when he is able to link up with the club following the Olympics.

"He has had a great European Championship," Koeman said. 

"He comes from here and, despite his youth, he already has a lot of experience. He plays in the same position I did. 

"With the ball he is very good and we can improve from behind with him. He also has projection and a great future ahead."

Meanwhile, Koeman hopes Ousmane Dembele can make a swift return from injury.

The France forward, whose contract at Camp Nou expires at the end of the 2021-22 season, is recovering from surgery on a knee injury sustained at Euro 2020 that is expected to keep him out for four months.

Dembele's career since his move to Barca from Borussia Dortmund for €105million four years ago has been blighted by injury setbacks.

The 24-year-old has managed just 54 LaLiga starts in four seasons at Camp Nou, while last season he completed 90 minutes in the league on just five occasions.

"I am very disappointed with his injury," Koeman added.

"Also, the situation with his contract is complicated. It is a pity for himself and for us. 

"He brought us a lot last year, different from what we have. I hope he can come back soon."

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