Ronald Koeman says Lionel Messi knows Barcelona have a “great future” but admits only he can decide whether he will stay with the club.
Messi has spent his entire professional career with Barcelona but his contract expires at the end of the season, leading to speculation he could leave the Nou Camp in the coming months.
Despite goals from the captain in both legs, Barcelona exited the Champions League at the last-16 stage on Wednesday night after a 5-2 aggregate defeat to Paris Saint-Germain.
They lost the first leg 4-1 at home, the latest in a string of heavy defeats in the competition that has seen them reach just one semi-final in the last six years.
However, Koeman – who replaced Quique Setien at the start of the season – believes Barcelona have a bright future, saying: “Leo has seen for quite some time that the team is improving thanks to all the changes we’ve made.
“Particularly, we have young players of great quality. We’ve got a great future ahead. Leo can’t have any doubts about what the future holds for this team.
“I think Leo is the one who has to decide his future. Nobody can help him with this. I think he knows that this Barca team is on the right path.
“I think this can’t be the reason for him not staying.”
Messi attempted to leave Barcelona last summer by exercising a clause in his contract that he believed entitled him to walk away from the club for nothing.
However, former club president Josep Maria Bartomeu insisted the clause had expired and Messi would only be allowed to leave if his €700m release clause was met, resulting in the 33-year-old reluctantly agreeing to stay.
Bartomeu was forced to resign last year though, and was replaced this month by former president Joan Laporta, who has stated publicly he wants Messi to stay.
The Argentina international won four La Liga titles and two Champions Leagues during Laporta’s previous reign – between 2003 and 2010 – during which time Pep Guardiola was appointed as manager.
However, Laporta’s goal of keeping Messi at the club is made harder by Barcelona’s precarious financial position, with Spanish newspaper El Mundo claiming the club have over €1billion of debt.
El Mundo also revealed details of Messi’s contract, claiming payments of up to £122m each year made him the highest-paid athlete in history. Barcelona have threatened legal action over the leak.
Barcelona’s earliest exit from the Champions League for 14 years means their focus for the rest of the season will be on closing the six-point gap to Atletico Madrid at the top of La Liga, as well as next month’s Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao.
Sky Sports’ Adam Bate…
Ninety per cent of climbers reach Everest base camp. Only the strong and the skilled make it to the summit of the world’s highest mountain. But even Everest base camp is almost as high as Mount Kilimanjaro. It is a four-day descent from there. Context matters.
Lionel Messi is on the descent himself. At 33, his very best years are behind him. That lightning turn of pace is gone and while his ball manipulation remains unsurpassed, time is one opponent he can never beat. Another Champions League season has now slipped by.
Just for a moment in Paris on Wednesday evening, there was a flicker of hope that the old magician might conjure up one more remontada for the road. A fierce shot from distance pulled one goal back. A penalty award soon after offered the chance of a second.
But that spot-kick was saved and with three goals still needed to have any hope of keeping Barcelona in a competition that Messi has won four times, they could not score one. Kylian Mbappe goes through. Messi joins Cristiano Ronaldo on the outside looking in.
It felt like a neat transfer of power on a night when Mbappe broke Messi’s record as the youngest player to score 25 Champions League goals. Erling Haaland had become the fastest to reach 20 of them as Ronaldo exited with Juventus. Power shift confirmed.
There is little point arguing that either are what they were. But how right is it to rush to crown new kings when the old ones are still alive and kicking the ball like Messi did here?