Koeman rules out voting in Barca elections as he focuses on crunch Sevilla double-header

By Sports Desk February 26, 2021

Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman will not vote in elections to decide the next club president as he battles to show he should keep his job under the new regime.

Dutchman Koeman declared on Friday that he will not side with a particular candidate, with Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Antoni Freixa the three men vying for the post.

The election takes place on March 7 and its outcome could have a profound effect on Koeman's chances of getting a second season in charge.

His first campaign has been a struggle, with the club hit hard financially by the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning Koeman has had to operate on a limited budget and with wranglings over pay cuts carrying on in the background.

The future of Lionel Messi is also up in the air, with the club's record goalscorer due to reach the end of his contract once this season finishes.

Koeman will watch and wait for the election results, but he told a news conference: "I do not vote because I am not someone who has to vote.

"Each one has his own story. Each candidate thinks that he is the best for the club. I have to wait to know the results. I have to wait and the members have to decide."

Once the successful candidate makes clear his plans for the club, Koeman will have more to say, but until then his focus is on getting results and ending an arduous February on a high note.

There have been LaLiga wins over Real Betis, Alaves and Elche, but it has been a month in which defeats to Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla in the first legs of the Champions League and Copa del Rey have hit Barcelona's trophy prospects.

Those ties remain retrievable, but Barcelona must go up several gears, starting with Saturday's league trip to Sevilla.

A 2-0 defeat at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium two and a half weeks ago must be quickly forgotten as Barcelona face a side battling alongside them in the top four to apply pressure on Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.

Sevilla will travel to Camp Nou next Wednesday for the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg, but Koeman said of the double-header: "They are two different games. We must try to win both.

"We will know that in the Copa there is a 2-0 deficit and in LaLiga we must continue our streak, add and put pressure on those above us."

Barcelona have won 11 of their last 14 LaLiga matches, drawing the other three and last losing in early December to Cadiz.

It is the cup results that have hurt them, along with allowing Atletico Madrid to streak so far clear early in the league season that catching them remains a tall order for Barcelona.

Koeman said Barcelona's senior players, such as Lionel Messi, need to find support from the younger members of the squad.

"The older players have tried to take command but they cannot do it alone. They need help from others. The clearest example is that Leo [Messi] has 17 or 18 goals and the rest of the forwards together have more or less the same number," Koeman said.

"He needs help from the others. The responsibility must lie with the whole team."

Koeman, who left his role as Netherlands head coach to return to the club he graced as a player, may need a trophy to sustain his stay, even though his contract runs through to the end of next season.

Asked about the prospect of finishing without a title this season, Koeman said he always took a positive view and focused on winning rather than losing.

"I know that being a Barca coach implies that there is always a lot of pressure," he said. "If you don't win or lose matches, the culprit is the coach."

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  • 'One-in-a-million' Pedri becoming more than Iniesta's heir at Barca after snow interrupted Real Madrid trial 'One-in-a-million' Pedri becoming more than Iniesta's heir at Barca after snow interrupted Real Madrid trial

    The snowfall that hit Madrid in February 2018 initially appeared worse than it was, with the seas of white that engulfed fields, pitches and gardens in Spain's capital clearing quicker than one might have expected.

    It was enough to cause Real Madrid to cancel their training for the day on February 5, allowing Cristiano Ronaldo an unexpected day off on his birthday – though certain sections of the media were particularly critical of the club for essentially shutting down with a crucial Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain little more than a week away.

    As it happened, Madrid went on to claim a third successive European crown, so the issue of a day off almost certainly won't have been raised again. However, it was this snowfall that proved a major disruption to the trial of a kid from the Canary Islands who was "about to sign", according to his father.

    Pedri, 15 at the time, did not join Real Madrid. While he may have been shown the cold shoulder amid the snowfall, the midfielder subsequently signed with local side Las Palmas. And then Barcelona came calling.

    Almost a year on from initially agreeing a deal with the Blaugrana, Pedri's presentation at Barca in August 2020 came at a particularly difficult time for the club, but those in the know were well aware that the teenager's arrival was a real coup.

    Made for Barca

    A diminutive, but effortlessly silky midfielder, it's little wonder Pedri linked up with Barca. "I have that Barca DNA," he said to EFE in his first major interview after his move was confirmed in 2019. "My desire is to resemble [Andres] Iniesta. I have always said he is my idol and he'll remain that until I die."

    Pedri's rise was impressive. In a little over a year, he progressed through the Juvenil A, B and Division de Honor teams in Las Palmas' academy before being introduced into the first-team picture in 2019 for pre-season.

    He quickly became an undisputed starter – he initially didn't expect to even reach the Division de Honor team in 2019-20.

    Las Palmas had been cautious about showing him off too early, aware that such a talent would immediately attract offers. Instead, they reportedly waited until they had him secured to a professional contract with a €30million release clause and then promised they'd sell him to an interested party straight away.

    Barca made their move in September 2019. An initial €6m could become €25m should Pedri meet certain criteria at Camp Nou – and at this point, few would bet against him.

    Once again Real Madrid were left frustrated, with a second attempt to sign Pedri coming too late – not that they would have necessarily been successful otherwise, as the teenager's father is the president of a local Barcelona supporters' club, which his grandfather founded.

    "Barca DNA" indeed.

    "One in a million"

    Pepe Mel was the coach who put his faith in Pedri back in 2019, the experienced tactician clearly stunned by the youngster's abilities.

    "Look at this boy, because he's one in a million and he doesn't know it," Mel said at the time. "He will define a new era in Spanish football."

    A bold prediction of one so young, but Pedri took to first-team football with immense comfort, his performances in the Segunda in 2019-20 suggesting he was ready for LaLiga straight away and that Mel's foretelling was on the money.

    While he displayed the skillset to play virtually anywhere across the midfield for Las Palmas, by his own admission Pedri felt most effective in the centre where he can take the game to the opposition, exploit gaps in defences and dazzle with his close dribbling.

    Despite his age, Pedri was a key player for Las Palmas last season, scoring four goals and setting up another six. Six of those goal involvements came in the first 10 matches of the campaign, highlighting there was a bit of a dip in terms of overall productivity – though he was still effective.

    Despite missing a chunk of the 2019-20 campaign to take part in the Under-17 World Cup in October and November, Pedri played more league matches (36) than anyone else for Las Palmas and his 60 chances created was unmatched among team-mates. Only nine players in the entire league produced more key passes.

    Nineteen Segunda players attempted more dribbles than Pedri's 108, but only three of those could better his 62 per cent completion rate.

    And of 1,284 attempted passes, 80 per cent found a team-mate. While by no means a startling statistic on its own, context is key – many of those with better records on the face of it were central defenders or players operating in less-congested areas of the pitch than Pedri.

    One thing was abundantly clear: Pedri was already operating at a high level for a 17-year-old, and with something of a new era sweeping over Camp Nou when he arrived in August, it perhaps wasn't a surprise to see him settle quickly.

    It had initially been expected that Pedri would spend another season on loan in the second tier with Las Palmas, or move to Barca's B team had they been promoted to the Segunda.

    Then he began attracting loan interest from LaLiga clubs, but in Ronald Koeman he found a coach ready to give him the opportunity.

    He's certainly taken it.

    Fitting the mould

    While there was never any doubt about Pedri's technical abilities, adapting his game to fit in at a club with a style of play as iconic and ingrained as Barca's was likely – in theory – to take time. Regardless of how things work at Las Palmas, Barcelona are simply a different beast in every way, shape or form.

    Yet, arguably the most impressive element of Pedri's breakout season is how quickly he's managed to immerse himself intrinsically in Barca's philosophy, so much so that talk of being "Iniesta's heir" doesn't sound quite so reactionary anymore, which in itself shows his progress.

    The best way to showcase how he's adapted to life at Barca is by looking at sequence involvement data, which outlines how integral to a team's build-up play a certain player is.

    The only midfielders involved in more passing sequences ending in a shot than Pedri (136) have been Nabil Fekir of Real Betis (143) and Barcelona's own Frenkie de Jong (152), both of whom have played considerably more minutes in LaLiga.

    Pedri also ranks similarly high in terms of secondary chance creation – so, the pass to the player who sets up the subsequent shot – with Messi (64), Dani Parejo (37) and Fekir (36) the only individuals beating his 31.

    When you also factor in that Pedri's 37 chances created this term puts him behind only Messi (65) and Jordi Alba (42) in the Barca team, this all highlights just how much influence the now 18-year-old already has on their general play.

    Not only is he frequently teeing up shots himself, but he's one of Barca's most-involved players when it comes to retaining possession as they probe packed defences. And it's not as if Pedri is constantly offloading the ball once he has possession either - he has created eight chances following a carry (defined as a movement of at least five metres with the ball), the third most among central midfielders in LaLiga this term, evidence his ability on the ball also helps drive Barca forward and spark opportunities.

    It's precisely these factors that make comparisons with Iniesta seem more sensible, particularly since Koeman recognised he'd be at his most effective in the middle.

    But Pedri, who earned his first senior Spain caps last month, appears to have the quality to carve out his own lasting legacy at Camp Nou. A first experience of winning silverware in Saturday's Copa del Rey final will surely just be the start if Barca see off Athletic Bilbao.

    Snow may have prevented a move to Madrid three years ago, but Pedri's outlook at Barcelona is gloriously bright.

  • Rumour Has It: Man Utd want Fofana as Liverpool still eye Konate Rumour Has It: Man Utd want Fofana as Liverpool still eye Konate

    A new defender appears to be at the forefront of Manchester United's planning.

    The Premier League giants have been linked with a host of centre-backs.

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    Manchester United are eyeing Leicester City defender Wesley Fofana, according to Foot Mercato.

    United are targeting a new partner for former Leicester star Harry Maguire – the world's most expensive centre-back – amid links to RB Leipzig's Ibrahima Konate, Sevilla's Jules Kounde, Villarreal defender Pau Torres and Real Madrid pair Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

    Fofana only joined Leicester from Saint-Etienne at the start of the season and is contracted until 2025.

     

    ROUND-UP

    - Fabrizio Romano says Konate remains one of Liverpool's top transfer targets. Liverpool are reportedly preparing a five-year contract.

    Arsenal are targeting Rennes and France sensation Eduardo Camavinga, reports Marca. The 18-year-old midfielder, who has already rejected a contract extension, has been linked with Madrid, United and Paris Saint-Germain.

    - Inter's Martin Satriano is attracting interest from Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, PSG and Leipzig, claims the Daily Mail.

    - Tottenham are considering a move for Barcelona's Emerson, says Mundo Deportivo. The 22-year-old is currently on loan at Real Betis amid links with Inter and PSG.

    Atletico Madrid are eyeing Juventus sensation Nicolo Rovella and Udinese's Nahuel Molina, according to Mundo Deportivo.

    - Gazzetta dello Sport reports Milan have enquired about Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan as the Serie A side consider alternatives to Gianluigi Donnarumma should he fail to sign a contract extension. Meanwhile, SportItalia says Milan have offered Inter full-back Danilo D'Ambrosio a two-year deal. The Italian is out of contract at season's end.

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    Barcelona president Joan Laporta is "convinced" Lionel Messi will sign a new contract to stay with the LaLiga giants.

    Messi is out of contract at the end of the season and the 33-year-old's future with Barca is far from certain amid strong links to Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City.

    Laporta remains determined to re-sign Messi, who has spent his entire senior career at Camp Nou.

    As Barca prepare for Saturday's Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao, Laporta was asked about the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

    "Everything is progressing adequately," Laporta told Deportes Cuatro.

    "I will do everything within the club's capabilities to get him to stay. That's what we're doing. Messi is motivated.

    "He is an extraordinary person and I am convinced that he will want to continue at Barca."

    Messi has scored a league-high 23 goals and supplied eight assists in 28 LaLiga appearances for Barca this season.

    In total, Messi has netted 29 goals across all competitions in 2020-21.

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