Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman is resigned to losing Lionel Messi to Manchester City next year.
Koeman has revealed how a heart-to-heart talk with the Argentine convinced him to focus himself on the Barca cause for one last season after Messi had made it clear he wanted to quit the Nou Camp to join Pep Guardiola at the Etihad.
Barcelona’s beleaguered president Josep Maria Bartomeu refused to accept the 33-year-old’s claim that he could quit the club for free – and insisted that the £630million buy-out clause in his contract would have to be met in full for him to leave.
But while Koeman has been delighted with Messi’s response, he has already accepted that he will not get to work with the six-time Ballon d’Or winner beyond the current season.
Koeman said: “I was always hoping Messi would stay for this season. If he had left in the summer, I would have had a very different situation at Barca.
“He wanted to leave but the club was very clear to him. The buy out clause was so high, that not a single club in the world was going to pay that in these times.
“I went to his house and took time to listen to all the things he said. But I also explained to him that I had not been a part of the problems he had with the club and told him how I was going to work to change things.
“We ended up talking football tactics. It ended as a proper football chat and that convinced me he is a real lover of the game and he still wanted to put everything he has into Barcelona.”
Koeman’s confession that he is not counting on Messi beyond the current season is huge news for City as they look to secure Guardiola’s future.
The Catalan has been a close friend of the Dutchman since they were team-mates in the Barcelona team that lifted the club’s first European Cup in 1992.
Guardiola’s contract expires at the end of the season after five years in Manchester.
And it’s unthinkable that Messi would agree to sign for the Blues without Guardiola signing a new deal.
Koeman has been hugely impressed with the Argentine’s attitude and form.
He added: “It was more a question of how I was going to get Leo’s mind in the right frame on and off the pitch.
“I had to get him right as a person and as a player. When he came back in for training I could only see good signs. His attitude, his spirit – there was not a thing I could criticise him for.
“He is still superb. The great thing with Messi is that when he sees a ball, he has fun. The way he sees things in a game is absolutely fantastic.
“He is not only smart as a player, he also still executes every action with the ball with the highest perfection.”