December 7, 2021

We’ll never see a player like Messi again’ – Koeman hails ‘amazing’ Barcelona captain as he closes in on Pele record

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The Dutch head coach has admitted that the Blaugrana “depend on” the six-time Ballon d’Or winner ahead of a crucial league clash with Real Sociedad

Ronald Koeman has hailed Lionel Messi as he closes in on Pele’s one-club goal record, while expressing his belief that the world will never see another player like the Barcelona captain.

Messi, who continues to be linked with a Barca exit although hasn’t yet held any discussions with other clubs,  has scored a staggering 642 goals in 746 appearances for Barca since making his senior debut back in 2004.

The 33-year-old has set a mark as the club’s all-time leading scorer which will likely never be broken, while winning a whole host of honours on both team and individual levels, including four Champions League crowns, 10 La Liga titles and six Ballon d’Or awards.

The Argentine’s latest strike gave Barca a vital 1-0 home win over Levante on Sunday , and he will likely lead the line for Koeman’s side once again when they play host to current league leaders Real Sociedad in midweek.

Messi is now only one goal away from matching Pele’s record of 643 goals for Santos, which currently stands as the highest number of goals one player has ever scored for a single club.

Koeman says the fact the diminutive playmaker has caught up to the Brazilian legend already serves as further proof of his standing as the greatest player of the modern era, and has talked up his importance to Barca ahead of Sociedad’s arrival at Camp Nou.

“They are impressive figures, we will never see a player like that again, who has given so much happiness, that is why he is number one and is so important,” the Dutch head coach told a pre-match press conference

“We saw him [shine] the other day, we depend on him. I do not know how many hat-tricks he has scored… once again, it’s amazing what he’s done for this club.”

Koeman also reserved praise for fellow countryman Frenkie de Jong, who provided the inch-perfect pass for Messi to run on to and score against Levante.

The 57-year-old has credited the midfielder for his intelligence on the ball, but wants to see him use his qualities to affect the game in the final third on a more consistent basis.

“He was always a player who could build from the back, he did it in Ajax and the national team, but he has the qualities to be offensive,” Koeman said of De Jong.

“He is very fast with the ball and can break the lines, we are working with him to build-up play but also to be more important in the last part of the field. He is very smart in his game but he can do more to break the lines.”

The Barca manager went on to give an update on the fitness of Ousmane Dembele, who was sidelined with another hamstring injury after a 2-1 defeat at Cadiz on December 5 .

“He is training individually, he is not yet part of the group and I do not want to give dates. Hopefully it can be early because he is a player we need,” he said.

The Blaugrana learned their Champions League fate after the draw for the round of 16 was completed on Monday, with a repeat of their thrilling 2016-17 tie against Paris Saint-Germain now scheduled for February.

Koeman is hopeful his team will be in far better shape by then after a mixed start to the 2020-21 season, as he added: “It is always complicated, the games are played in February and March and it is not known how we will be or how they will be, there is nothing certain and we hope to have everyone available.

“We will be stronger than we are now; they are a team with ups and downs too but we have to wait and see when we face each other. I think we will be better.”