Koeman will be the first manager at the Nou Camp to be without Messi since 2004 but the Dutchman wants his remaining Barcelona players to step up after Paris Saint-Germain snapped up “the best player in the world”
Ronald Koeman has challenged his Barcelona squad to step up after Lionel Messi’s transfer to Paris Saint-Germain.
Messi spent 21 years at the Nou Camp and scored 30 goals last season to keep Koeman’s side in the La Liga title race, but has now departed upon the controversial expiration of his contract.
Although he agreed to take a 50% pay cut, the Blaugrana’s financial woes meant his new deal could not be sanctioned by the Spanish league due to their newly-implemented salary cap.
It leaves the former Everton and Southampton manager in a position which no Barca boss has found themselves in since 2004 – when the Argentine broke through into the senior setup – but there is no time to feel sorry for himself as the 2021-22 term dawns.
Barcelona face Real Sociedad on Sunday in their opening La Liga fixture and despite instability off the pitch and the drama that will surround Messi’s departure for months to come, Koeman wants to “close the book” on recent events.
“We have to understand that there is always an end for a player. You have to close the book because now we have to focus on this new season,” the Dutchman told ESPN.
“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.”
Regarding losing the “best player in the world,” Koeman shed light on his perspective, saying: “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.
“It takes a long time, but I was also surprised by the day and the moment that I heard that he was finished playing for Barcelona.
“I knew the financial situation of the club made it more difficult,” revealed the former Netherlands boss.
“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 and we were all disappointed that he will not play for us this season.”
Koeman is clearly keen to temper expectations in Catalonia as his side begin what looks set to be a very difficult season as they bid to win La Liga for the first time in three years.
“OK, you have to change fast because you don’t stay in the disappointment with the new season starting,” he stressed.
“You have to understand it was for a few days a difficult situation. Messi meant so much for this club.”
On replacing the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, Koeman knows only a group effort can make up the subtracted quality due to Messi’s departure.
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“Of course we will have more difficulties to score goals. Messi scored 30 goals last season. So other players need to bring more and take the next step and it’s more about the team now than individual players,” Koeman stated.
“It’s not always one player, you have to do it together. Hopefully, we get players back from injury like Ansu 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.”
Koeman and co, driven by the magic Messi produced, were on a roll in La Liga from January of this year but fell off in the spring, just as talk of a title shot began to become more than whispers.
However, the 58-year-old is remaining measured ahead of the new term.
“We are still in the transition. We have to understand that the start of this season is difficult,” he admitted.
“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,” such as new signings Memphis Depay and Sergio Aguero.
“We did 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.”