Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman, new club captain Sergio Busquets and veteran defender Gerard Pique paid tribute to Lionel Messi before and after Sunday’s Joan Gamper trophy match against Juventus, before pledging to ‘turn the page “in the absence of the legendary attacker.
Almost 3,000 fans flocked to the Johan Cruyff Stadium for the event, which also serves as the team’s presentation for the upcoming season, but was overshadowed by news of Messi’s exit from the club, sources telling ESPN he would join him. Paris Saint Germain.
Barca were unable to complete the 34-year-old’s new contract as his previous deal expired last month due to “financial and structural hurdles”. Earlier on Sunday, a tearful Messi bade farewell to the only club he played for, insisting he wanted to stay and did everything he could to make it happen.
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Chants of ‘Messi, Messi’ could be heard throughout the stadium as the players were introduced to fans, as well as in the 10th minute of the game. Antoine Griezmann, Ansu Fati and new signing Memphis Depay were applauded while Miralem Pjanic and Samuel Umtiti, both on the transfer window list, received a more icy reception.
“Despite Leo Messi’s farewell, we are very excited about the new season with the team we have and the signings we have made”, Koeman told the crowd. “In addition, the young people who arrive in the first team and who are the future of this great club.
“We are convinced that we will give you a lot of joy this season,” continued the Barcelona coach. “With a lot of help, work, sacrifice, we will reach the maximum. We know the duty we have to represent this club.”
Koeman also played down reports that new signing Sergio Aguero was ready to follow compatriot Messi through the exit door: “It’s not true that he wants to leave. He has signed and is excited. he got hurt this morning and he can’t play.
“It’s a step backwards, he was training and he can contribute a lot.”
Messi’s departure has seen Busquets claim the captain position and the Spain international knows he has big shoes to fill.
“It is an honor to arrive here as captain of the first team of the best club in the world”, Busquets said. “I had good examples like [Carles] Puyol, Xavier [Hernandez] and Leo [Messi]. I will try to be up to it. I want to have a special memory for Leo.
“Thank you for bringing Barca to the top, for making history,” added Busquets. “To be the best in the world and to beat all individual and team records. We wish you the best. Thank you forever, Leo. Finally. A new season begins, with great enthusiasm and ambition. We are fighting for all the fans and we do it with you We need you more than ever.
After Barcelona’s 3-0 win over Juve, Pique explained that “the team was affected”.
“Especially those of us who have spent more years sharing a walk-in closet with [Messi]”Pique added.” When it comes to talent and magic, it’s not the same when the best in history goes away. You lose a very important part in attack, someone who gave you a lot of goals and assists. “
Pique sent a message to teammates saying “we have to compete”, and his manager said everyone is responsible for covering up Messi’s absence.
“We have to turn the page, we cannot change this situation,” Koeman said. “I told the players. We have to improve, we are not going to have Leo’s goals. Midfielders have to score more goals and we have to improve as a team.
“You always miss someone who is the best in the world,” he continued. “We have to accept it. The players have to give a little more. We are going to give opportunities to the young people. There is a future.”
Messi, who has scored 672 goals in 778 games for Barcelona and is the club’s top scorer and top scorer, is leaving the Catalan club as a free agent, a year after seeking to exit after falling out with the president of the club at the time, Josep Maria Bartomeu. .