5 issues Barcelona must address as Lionel Messi prepares to break silence
Lionel Messi is set to break his media silence in an interview which could drop a hint over his future.
The Barcelona star is set to give an interview to Argentine newspaper Ole, which El Mundo Deportivo highlights is his first media appearance since talking to Spanish TV station La Sexta on December 28 last year.
Messi recently spoke to the club’s official TV channel following victory in the Copa del Rey final, but has not spoken about his future this calendar year.
The 33-year-old is out of contract at the Camp Nou on 30 June and there has been a great deal of speculation over his future, with a potential summer move to Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City suggested.
The Blaugrana won the Copa del Rey title this year but their La Liga title challenge has evaporated with a whimper and their disappointing Champions League campaign is still fresh in the memory.
Here are five issues that the club must resolve ahead of Messi breaking his silence.
1. The contract offer to Messi
With Messi’s contract expiring in little over a month, there have been no meaningful updates in recent weeks on where he will play his football next season.
There have been widespread reports that Barcelona have opened contract negotiations with the star, but they are struggling to commit to firm sums of money as their internal audit of their finances is still ongoing.
The suggestions have been that Messi must accept a notable wage cut to extend his stay at the Camp Nou, but the length of the contract – a commitment to prominent roles after his retirement from playing – will cover any shortfall in income.
The reality is that the club will not be able to offer the same financial incentives that would be on the table from Paris, or indeed the blue half of Manchester.
Messi is settled in the Catalan capital with his family and has a close relationship with president Joan Laporta and many of his teammates, while loyalty may also help sway his decision.
However, with each day that passes towards the looming contract deadline – the more nervous the club will become regarding his future.
2. Next season’s coach
Ronald Koeman has had a season of ups and downs since his appointment at the club last August.
It was widely accepted that he did not have a vintage Barcelona side at his disposal, but there is still a strong argument that they have the most gifted set of players in La Liga yet have fallen short of the title.
Recent limp defeats at home to Levante and Celta Vigo have piled the pressure on the Dutchman’s position, alongside a dreadful record in matches against title rivals.
Appointed by the club’s former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, it was suggested that Laporta’s successful election in March would prompt such a change.
Laporta held a much-publicised two-hour lunch with Koeman last week and the boss has struck a notable pessimistic tone in the press in his appearances since.
In normal circumstances his position would be untenable but the lack of true alternatives may save his position.
Hansi Flick is reported to have been sounded out but he is likely to be appointed as the new Germany boss, while the club have also missed out on Mauricio Pochettino, Thomas Tuchel and Julian Nagelsmann.
Xavi Hernandez – the club’s former captain, currently in charge of Qatari club Al Sadd – would be the logical choice, but he is a hugely inexperienced coach and he would not inherit a side capable of challenging at the top level.
Furthermore, the former midfield maestro was closer to Laporta’s presidential challenger Victor Font’s campaign and he remains a pivotal figure in Qatar ahead of next year’s World Cup.
The club’s B team coach Francisco Javier García Pimienta is another option, but the reality is that there is no ready-made replacement.
In addition, Catalan media outlet Diario Sport say that sacking Koeman a year ahead of his contract expiring next summer would cost the club €7.5million – with their financial state extremely precarious.
3. Off-field appointments
Victor Font’s presidential campaign pledged that Xavi would return to the club but not as first-team coach and he would instead oversee the football operation.
A number of new appointments have been made since Laporta’s election, most notably the arrival of Mateu Alemany as the club’s new Director of Football – having excelled in a similar role at Valencia.
However, Ramon Planes – technical secretary – and Patrick Kluivert – head of youth football – are still at the Camp Nou despite widespread reports they would be replaced.
That suggests that potential replacements for their roles have fallen through, with a level of uncertainty around multiple positions.
It had been thought that Jordi Cruyff – the son of club icon Johan – would return to the Camp Nou having been closely linked to Laporta in his previous term of president between 2003 and 2010.
Cruyff remains at the helm of Shenzhen FC as coach but has been a sporting director at previous clubs, and despite links of a return to Catalonia – that move has yet to materialise.
4. Which players to sell
Barcelona need to significantly reduce their wage bill this summer and, where possible, make a profit on transfer fees.
Last summer, established stars such as Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal were moved on for nominal fees in a desperate attempt to lower their outgoings in wages.
Squad players Miralem Pjanic, Martin Braithwaite, Neto, Matheus Fernandes, Samuel Umtiti and Junior Firpo will all be available for sale and could be moved on at cut-price bargains due to Barca’s desperation.
Meanwhile, the established stars of Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto have all had declining levels of output yet still command notable wages.
The club’s three record signings – Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann – have also underwhelmed after significant outgoings and offers are likely to be listened to – but due to the economic ramifications of the pandemic, their departures are likely to be complicated.
Defender Clement Lenglet, midfielder Riqui Puig and forward Francisco Trincao also may be moved on.
Decision must be made on returning loan players such as Emerson Royal, Juan Miranda, Moussa Wague, Jean-Clair Todibo and Carles Alena.
5. Summer signings
Widespread reports claim that Barcelona have agreed a deal to sign their former youth player Eric Garcia on a free agent when his Manchester City contract expires.
Sergio Aguero is also said to be in advanced talks as he looks to swap the Etihad for the Camp Nou, while the Blaugrana have long been linked with moves for Dutch internationals Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum – whose contracts at Lyon and Liverpool respectively are expiring.
Despite none of these deals requiring transfer fees, the wages will likely be significant and will further heighten the need for urgent player exits.
It has also been suggested that the Catalan giants are desperate for a marquee summer signing in a bid to lift fan spirits, but it is unclear if any such move would be financially possible.
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