Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has said that captain Lionel Messi will end his career at the Catalan club, dismissing a report saying the Argentine no longer wishes to renew his current contract when it expires next year.
“Messi has said he will end his working and footballing life at Barca,” Bartomeu told Spanish network Movistar after his side beat Villarreal 4-1 away on Sunday in La Liga. “I’m not going to explain the details because we are focused on the competition and we are negotiating with many players but Messi has explained to us that he wants to stay and so we’re going to enjoy him for much longer.”
The 33-year-old Messi, who signed his last contract in 2017, has become more outspoken against the club’s hierarchy in the last year and radio station Cadena Ser said last Thursday he is unhappy with how Barca is being run and wants to leave in 2021.
The win against Villarreal kept Barca in the title hunt with La Liga leaders Real Madrid, who hold a four-point advantage after beating Athletic Bilbao 1-0 on Sunday thanks to a late penalty by Sergio Ramos.
The spot kick was awarded following a VAR review while Athletic had their own penalty appeal turned down and Bartomeu said the technology was not being applied fairly since the season resumed following the novel coronavirus stoppage.
“I saw the game in Bilbao and although I don’t like to say it, I’ll repeat that VAR is not being used as it should be,” added Bartomeu.
“Since the season returned after the Covid-19 crisis it has not been equal, that has been reflected in the results and it looks as if it always favours the same team. VAR should be there to help out the referee but in the last few weeks everyone has been able to see the instances in which it has not been used fairly.”
Real coach Zinedine Zidane said he was tired of his side’s winning run being put down to marginal decisions going their way.
Free-flowing Barca display strengthens Setien’s position
After a harrowing week in which his reputation was dragged through the mud, Barcelona coach Quique Setien came out fighting by overseeing a spectacular 4-1 win away to Villarreal which showed the 61-year-old’s coaching abilities are still in tact.
The superb display might not be enough to prevent Real Madrid from winning the title, but it was enough to get a vote of confidence from Bartomeu.
“Today we saw a dynamic Barca who created a lot of chances and they looked like real title contenders,” he told Spanish network Movistar. “We’re going to fight until the end in this league campaign and in the Champions League.”
Setien was not the club’s first choice to succeed Ernesto Valverde in January and his position has been questioned as the team’s title bid unravelled with draws against Sevilla, Celta Vigo and Atletico Madrid. His lack of experience in dealing with a dressing room such as Barca’s, full of world class players but high maintenance egos, also came under the microscope after he brought Antoine Griezmann on in added time against Atletico.
But his ability to get a team playing truly attractive and exciting football was finally evidenced against Villarreal, and led Bartomeu to dismiss reports there had been a rift between the coach and players. “I know there have been rumours going around but they are completely false,” Bartomeu added. “Quique has the full support of the players and the directors and is doing a great job.”
Barca’s free-flowing display was sparked by a tactical shift by Setien, who placed Griezmann alongside Luis Suarez in a front two with Lionel Messi as the playmaker, in contrast to previous matches where Griezmann was deployed out on the left wing.
Messi set up goals for Suarez and Griezmann, teeing up the latter’s audacious chip with an irresistible backheel. “I felt truly satisfied with the performance and I’m sure the players did too because they played a great game and enjoyed themselves,” Setien explained. “I would like to play like this in every game.”
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