Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman has said he is not concerned by the uncertainty surrounding Lionel Messi’s future with the forward now free to negotiate a pre-contract agreement with other clubs.
Messi, 33, is out of contract at the end of the season and Jan. 1 marked the date when he could legally open negotiations with other teams outside of Spain.
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In an interview last week, the Barca captain said he still hasn’t decided where he will play his football next season but ruled out talking with other clubs until the campaign is over.
“He said he doesn’t want to make a decision yet and we have to respect that,” Koeman said in a news conference ahead of Barca’s league game against Huesca on Sunday.
“Like any player whose contract is expiring, he is free to decide as he chooses. I don’t see any problem if he doesn’t make a decision now. We must respect his decision and what he said in the interview. It doesn’t generate any nerves or worries.”
Messi, who has scored 10 goals in all competitions under Koeman, returned to full training this week after missing the Eibar game on Tuesday with an ankle injury as Barca dropped more points without him in the side.
Koeman has named him in the squad for the Huesca match and concedes his team are still dependent on the six-time world player of the year.
“A little bit, yes,” the Dutch coach responded when asked if there was still dependent on him. “But that has been the case for many years. His performances and effectiveness have been huge for the club.
“I have seen games from two or three years ago when the team didn’t play well but Leo was there to resolve the games. There is a reason he’s the No. 1 in the world “
After Tuesday’s draw with Eibar, Barca sit sixth in La Liga, 10 points behind leaders Atletico Madrid, who have a game in hand, and Koeman says they cannot afford to lose another game if they want to win the title.
“We are 10 points back and you can’t say we are going to win the league,” he added. “That is being realistic, but it doesn’t mean we will stop fighting, even if the situation is complicated.
“We can’t drop many more points. If [Atletico] remain consistent throughout the season, it will be very difficult. We can’t lose another game if we want to fight for the title. Every dropped point is a missed chance.”