Football

Lionel Messi: I want to stay at Barcelona but...

Argentinian ace warns that he wants to 'see a winning team' at the Nou Camp

Barcelona talisman Lionel Messi has expressed his desire to stay at the club, but warned that he needs to see a winning team at the Nou Camp.

His comments come soon after Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu confirmed that the Argentine's contract contains a clause that allows him to decide at the end of each season whether he wants to leave on a free transfer.

When asked about this, the Barcelona captain told Catalan-based daily Sport: "I want to be at Barcelona as long as possible...

"But I also don't want to have a long-term contract and only be here because of it. I want to be here because physically I'm fine, to play and be an important member of the squad.

"And as I said before, I need to see there's a winning team because I want to keep winning things at this club. For me, money or a clause don't mean anything. Other things motivate me, and the most important thing is having a winning team."

The La Liga champions' efforts to provide Messi with the winning team he craves saw them spend £218.1 million (S$371.2m) in the transfer window, most notably on midfielder Frenkie de Jong and forward Antoine Griezmann.

However, their signings were overshadowed by the one purchase Barcelona did not manage to pull off - the return of Neymar.

The 27-year-old Brazilian left the Nou Camp for Paris Saint-Germain for a world-record 222 million euros (S$337.4m) in 2017 but was desperate for a return to his old stomping ground.

Said Messi: "I would have loved to have Neymar back.

"I understand those people who are against his return and it's understandable for what happened with Ney and the way that he left.

"But thinking about it on a sporting level, I personally think Neymar is one of the best players in the world and having him in our squad would increase our chances of achieving our objectives...

"I spoke with Ney and he told me how things were going. He was desperate to come back.

"I don't know if the club really tried or not. What I do know (is) Neymar was hoping it would happen.

"I also understand it's very difficult to negotiate with PSG after all their previous back and forth issues with Barcelona."

Messi, 32, also ruled himself out of a return to action against Valencia on Sunday morning (Singapore time), saying he has not fully recovered from the calf injury he suffered during a pre-season match against Napoli.

Barca have not had the best start to their La Liga title defence, winning just one of their first three matches. They lost their season-opener and drew their last game.

The Peter Lim-owned Valencia had an identical start to the season, but it cost coach Marcelino his job.

The inexperienced former Spain Under-21 coach Albert Celades has since been named as his replacement.

Not that club legend Santiago Canizares is impressed.

The former Valencia and Spain goalkeeper told Radio Marca: "Celades has only coached youth players and has no credentials to work in the top flight.

"He has no idea what he has gotten himself in for and what the dressing room is like. He will have his work cut out from the start.

"He will meet a team who are distracted and embarrassed and he will have to play Ferran Torres and Lee Kang In - it will be those two plus nine others.

"Lim has said that Marcelino's dismissal is because he does not trust the youth system, but that argument is absurd and has no sporting value.

"Marcelino has fulfilled all the objectives for which he was hired. Sacking Marcelino is a tremendous outrage."

Football