Madrid (AFP) – Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman said on Saturday that he was “excited about the team” and urged them to avoid “living in the past” ahead of the first Liga match of the post-Lionel Messi era on Sunday against Real Sociedad.
The departure of Messi “has been painful for all the fans, for everything Leo has done for this club, for the type of player he is,” Koeman told a press conference.
“We will miss him a lot because he was a very important player in the history of Barca. But you can’t live in the past. Things change and I’m very excited about the team we have this year,” Koeman said.
“When we get the injured players back, we will have a very strong team to achieve great things. The team is ready, we have a lot of experience and we are ready to play. The team is ready to go, we’ve had five weeks of preparation when Leo wasn’t even present,” said Koeman who is entering his second season on the Barcelona bench.
Barcelona said they had no choice but to offload Messi as they battle to slash a 1.2 billion-euro ($1.4 billion) debt mountain. They also said their wage bill with Messi would have amounted to 110 percent of income, way over La Liga’s Financial Fair Play limit.
Even without him, club president Joan Laporta says that figure only comes down to a still unsustainable 95 percent.
Barca said on Saturday that four of the club’s key players — Jordi Alba, Sergi Roberto, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets — had agreed to a salary cut.
“We know perfectly well the economic situation of the club. It needs help, in every sense. So their gesture is to be commended,” Koeman said.
He added that he still hoped to sign players.
“We are a bit short on strikers, so we have talked about the possibility of recruiting a striker of a different profile,” said Koeman.
“But it will depend on whether we can sign anyone. It all depends on Financial Fair Play. If it’s possible, it’s likely we’ll add someone up front.”
Former Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu, whose tenure Laporta slammed last week in revealing the club could not afford to push through a deal to keep Messi, hit back Friday insisting it was the current administration which was to blame for the club’s growing financial woes.
For Laporta he assumed a “disastrous” financial inheritance at the start of his second tenure last March but Bartomeu said the seeds were sown beforehand — Laporta’s first tenure covered 2003-2010 — as salaries mushroomed and pushed debt into the stratosphere.
In an open letter to the club, Bartomeu said that he would have backed a controversial deal to sell 10 percent of the Spanish game’s rights to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners as a means of making the retention of Messi possible.
The deal received the green light this week from all but four of Spain’s 42 clubs in the top two divisions — Real Madrid, Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao and one club which preferred not to be named.
It needed two-thirds support among the 42 clubs, hence passed.
Laporta was opposed, insisting it would “mortgage” the future of Barcelona for 50 years.