Ronald Koeman believes Cody Gakpo has a "great future" and made the right choice in signing for Liverpool.

After impressing at the World Cup, Gakpo joined Liverpool from PSV last month, with the Reds reportedly paying an initial £37million (€42m).

Since the start of last season until his move to Anfield, no player had more goal involvements in the Eredivisie than Gakpo's 46 (21 goals, 25 assists). Indeed, no other player in Europe's top 10 leagues tallied at least 20 goals and 20 assists over the same timeframe.

However, after four games – all starts – for Liverpool, Gakpo is yet to score or set up a goal. He has had 12 shots, with three hitting the target, and only 18 touches in the opposition penalty area.

While it has been a slow start for the 23-year-old, new Netherlands coach Koeman, back in charge for a second time, is confident Gakpo will develop into a top player.

"I think it's important that he's playing and that's really important for a young kid like Gakpo, [to be] struggling," Koeman told Stats Perform at the Nations League Finals draw, with the Oranje, who are hosts for the mini-tournament in June, having been pitted against Croatia in the semi-finals.

"It's difficult because Liverpool is not in the last few months at that [high] level. That's always difficult for a new signing, to come in during the season.

"You have to give him that time to develop and to adapt to the Premier League because it's a different level.

"The intensity is much higher than he used to play in Holland but he's young and he will learn and he will be better. But he has a great future."

As the Netherlands look beyond the Nations League Finals and towards Euro 2024, Koeman will be hoping to build on a young core of players.

"We have a great history, we have always creating good young talent and let's hope that they will develop as star players, and that will be really important for the national team," he added.

The Netherlands lost to Portugal in the final of the inaugural Nations League in 2019, and Koeman is hoping to make home advantage count this time around.

"We are looking forward, we play at home," he said. 

"We saw Croatia during the World Cup and they're a really experienced football team.

"It's an extra [boost] that we play in front of our crowd in Holland. We know what the difficulty is when you play away.

"We have that experience in 2019 against Portugal in the final that we lost 1-0. Let's hope that the crowd will push the team."

Ronald Koeman plans to adopt a more attacking style of play with the Netherlands than the one established by his predecessor Louis van Gaal.

The Oranje reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Qatar under Van Gaal, but criticisms were directed to a style of football that was perceived to be negative.

A five-man defensive line proved to be miserly, conceding just twice in the first four matches of the tournament, but fans wanted more creative output from a side that boasted the likes of Memphis Depay and Cody Gakpo.

The Netherlands' venture in Qatar came to an end against Argentina in a shoot-out defeat, having fought back from a two-goal deficit in a game that marked the final stand of Van Gaal's third spell at the helm.

A similar approach will not be adopted under Koeman, who instead plans to return to the four-man defence he used during his previous stint in charge from 2018-2020.

"In principle, we are going back to the system we played before," he said.

"I also change the system sometimes, but we are going to form the basic system with four defenders.

"In the end, it's all about the implementation of the system. I also played with five players at the back at Barcelona, with three central defenders, and that went very well.

"Everything revolves around: put high pressure or let yourself sink. That makes a system offensive or not."

Assessing the Netherlands' performance at the World Cup, Koeman praised Van Gaal's unbeaten record that stretched until the quarter-final defeat to Argentina and hopes he can enjoy a similar run of form, albeit in his own approach.

"We try to play attractive and fun football in the Netherlands. And twenty international matches remain unbeaten, that will be incredible if I manage to do the same," he added.

"It can be done differently, and I want to do it differently."

Koeman faces a baptism of fire on his return to the national side, with his first match coming against France in March as the qualification campaign for Euro 2024 begins.

As is always the case when Barcelona fall short in the Champions League, the local media reaction was unforgiving.

"On the brink of disaster," screamed the Diario AS front page. Barcelona were hurtling towards "the abyss", according to L'Esportiu. 

Robert Lewandowski's 92nd-minute equaliser may have rescued a point in a 3-3 draw with Inter last time out in the competition, but it was not enough. 

Having suffered a 1-0 defeat at San Siro one week earlier, the result left the Blaugrana staring at an early Champions League exit.

Xavi acknowledged Barca did not deserve to progress following their madcap draw with the Nerazzurri, but that will be no consolation to their hierarchy should they bow out of the competition on Wednesday.

As Barca – just a few weeks on from a huge transfer spree and a positive start in LaLiga – prepare to host Bayern Munich in a do-or-die clash, Stats Perform examines the potential ramifications of yet another European failure.

Tracing Barca's Champions League woes as old foes visit 

Football has a funny way of throwing up narratives. Surely no team has been responsible for causing Barca greater embarrassment than Bayern, who have won nine of their 12 Champions League meetings with the Catalan giants (D1 L2).

Among those victories, of course, was an 8-2 humiliation of Quique Setien's team in the 2019-20 quarter-finals, an historic result that hastened Lionel Messi's attempts to quit Camp Nou that year.

Bayern also appeared to take great joy in crushing Barca last season, preventing Xavi's men from reaching the last 16 for the first time since 2003-04 (when they were absent from the competition entirely) by thrashing them 3-0 in a match with no consequences for the Bavarians.

The German side are already assured of their own last-16 spot again ahead of Wednesday's match, but they will no doubt be keen to deal another blow to their old rivals – particularly after the less-than-amicable departure of Lewandowski in July. 

While Bayern's domestic dominance makes their obsession with Champions League success understandable, Barca have suffered extensively after failing to meet lofty European aims of late.

Barca are looking to avoid suffering consecutive group-stage eliminations for just the second time in the competition, having previously crashed out at this stage in both 1997-98 and 1998-99, but their Champions League woes stretch back beyond last season.

Since lifting the trophy in 2015, Barca have posted four quarter-final exits and one last-16 elimination, as well as an incredible collapse against Liverpool in their one semi-final appearance.

Meanwhile, Barca have been beaten by three or more goals on 10 separate occasions in their past seven Champions League campaigns, having not lost by such a margin in their previous three seasons in the competition.

For a club who are in a state of perpetual crisis despite a run of five league titles in seven seasons between 2012-13 and 2018-19, the Champions League clearly holds special importance, which has only been heightened by recent off-pitch events.

The view from the boardroom: Why qualification matters for Laporta 

The economic 'levers' pulled by Joan Laporta were the talk of the continent a couple of months ago, with Barca spending in excess of €150million on Lewandowski, Jules Kounde and Raphinha, as well as attracting four high-profile free agents.

That spree was set against a backdrop of continued economic fears, with Barca accused of gambling their future to finance a short-term rebuild.

The sales of 10 per cent of their future LaLiga broadcasting rights and 49 per cent of their in-house production company Barca Studios were required in order for the Blaugrana to meet the division's salary limits – and even that was not enough to prevent director of football Mateu Alemany having to contribute his own money to ensure Kounde's registration.

The identity of their marquee addition Lewandowski, meanwhile, raises further questions. 

The Poland international may remain his indomitable self, following up a return of 35 goals in his final Bundesliga season with Bayern by scoring 12 in his first 11 outings in LaLiga, but handing a four-year contract to a player who turned 34 in August gave an idea of where Barca's priorities lie.

It is within this context that Laporta's view of the Blaugrana's European failings must be examined.

Reports have suggested Laporta was "furious" with Barca's inability to beat Inter, and the president's frustrations were on display when he stormed into the officials' changing room following their Clasico defeat to Real Madrid four days later, earning himself a fine.

It is thought Barca have budgeted for a run to the Champions League's last eight as a minimum this season, and failing to meet that objective would reportedly cost them €20m.

With Barca and Madrid seemingly fighting a losing battle in their attempts to convince Europe's other giants to back a revival of the Super League, the loss of further revenue is unlikely to go down well in the Camp Nou boardroom.

Could Xavi pay for Laporta's approach?

While Xavi's predecessor Ronald Koeman lost his job with Barca ninth in LaLiga, overseeing the club's worst ever start to a Champions League campaign hardly helped his cause, with a 3-0 loss at Benfica last September representing a watershed moment for the Dutchman.

Xavi has goodwill in the bank after leading Barca to second in LaLiga last term, but the former midfielder recently acknowledged a European exit would deal a blow to his own job prospects.

Indeed, resounding league wins over Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao have done little to lift the mood at Camp Nou, demonstrating a shift in expectations Xavi must handle.

Signing Lewandowski, who has 91 Champions League goals to his name, has also ensured Xavi has few excuses, at odds with Koeman's patched-up, Messi-less side.

Whether fair or not, Xavi is now perceived to have the players to compete with sides like Bayern; failure to do so would undoubtedly prompt questions of both the coach and the board.

Xavi may have restored Barca's status as domestic title contenders, but as ever in Catalonia, past European glories cast a long shadow.

If Xavi oversees another continental failure, he may just pay for Laporta's approach.

Miralem Pjanic has hit out at former Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman, claiming training sessions lacked intensity, tactics and ideas during the Dutchman's spell at Camp Nou.

Pjanic made 19 league appearances for Barcelona in the 2020-21 season after joining from Juventus, spending the last campaign on loan at Besiktas before joining Emirati outfit Sharjah last month.

The Bosnia and Herzegovina international has been critical of Koeman in the past, accusing the Dutchman of "disrespecting" him following his move to Turkey in September 2021.

Speaking to Cadena Ser on Friday, Pjanic attacked Koeman's methods once more, saying: "I was very surprised in training with Koeman.

"There was no intensity, no tactics, no ideas. We did not prepare for the games."

 

Pjanic spent his most recent pre-season at Barcelona under Koeman's successor Xavi, and was far more enthusiastic in his assessment of the current Blaugrana coach.

"Preparation and training was good under Xavi, similar to what I was used to at Juventus, for example, where we won everything," Pjanic added.

"Now the sessions at Barca have a lot of intensity. Xavi and his staff were very clear with us at the start of the season. They told us this year we would have to run and go 2000 miles per hour.

"Every day is like a game in training at Barcelona now, because there is so much quality in the squad and a lot of intensity."

Xavi has led Barca to an unbeaten start to the season in LaLiga, having overseen a second-placed finish after taking over from Koeman midway through last season. 

Luis Suarez wants Ronald Koeman to tell him to his face why he showed him the door at Barcelona just over two years ago.

Suarez joined LaLiga rivals Atletico Madrid on a free transfer in September 2020 after being deemed surplus to requirements by Koeman.

The Uruguay striker, now playing for his boyhood club Nacional, scored 198 goals in a trophy-laden six-year spell with Barca.

Suarez hopes Koeman, who was sacked by the Blaugrana in October 2021 after just 14 months as head coach, will explain why he decided to get rid of him.

He told Marca: "Time goes by, and yes, out of politeness and respect, I would greet him.

"If I met him, I hope that Ronald would have the greatness, which he had as a player at the club, to tell me the truth to my face about why I left and that I didn't leave for footballing or technical reasons."

Xavi replaced Koeman and has been given significant backing in the transfer market, bringing in the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha.

Suarez feels Barca legend Xavi has everything in place to be a success.

Asked if Xavi will produce the style of football fans of the Catalan giants expect, he said: "I think so. He is showing it, without being perfect. He is a coach who grew up there and knows what the club and the fans need.

"I see many conditions for him to go far as a coach, and, in addition, they gave him good tools for it, they gave him the players that he needed and wanted. It's up to him to prove it."

Suarez believes Barca have a good blend of youth and experience as they strive to dethrone LaLiga champions and fierce rivals Real Madrid.

Quizzed how he thinks his former club will do, he replied: "Very well. They made good signings and the young players have two more years of experience: Pedri, Gavi, Ansu [Fati], who is coming back, plus the experience of Jordi [Alba], Busi [Sergio Busquets], [Marc-Andre] ter Stegen... It's a team that can compete for everything."

Ronald Koeman claimed an attempted move to bring Georginio Wijnaldum to Barcelona fell through after president Joan Laporta delayed a deal.

The Dutchman, who was fired by the LaLiga outfit last October after 14 months in charge at Camp Nou, struggled at times on the Barcelona bench and was replaced by Xavi.

Koeman, who will embark on a second spell as Netherlands head coach after the World Cup in Qatar, has confirmed he attempted to bring in compatriot Wijnaldum during the final transfer window of his Barcelona tenure.

However, Koeman contends that president Laporta, then recently returned to the position as Josep Maria Bartomeu's successor, stymied any move by dragging his heels.

"I tried to sign Wijnaldum for Barca, but I failed because the president wanted to play with me more than bring in a player," Koeman told Dutch newspaper AD.

"That delayed the operation, and for that reason, he opted for PSG. Otherwise, he would have played for Barcelona."

Wijnaldum left Liverpool in June 2021 to join Paris Saint-Germain, but he struggled across a dismal first season, resulting in him being loaned out to Roma for the current campaign.

A serious leg injury has since left Wijnaldum sidelined, however, making it highly unlikely he will be included in the Netherlands' squad for the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

While criticising Joan Laporta's management, Ronald Koeman has claimed Barcelona are caught up in their own history as football evolves beyond their identity on the pitch.

The former Barcelona head coach claims Laporta placed unnecessary pressure on him before his dismissal in October last year.

Xavi taking over from the 59-year-old formed part of a narrative that the financially embattled club would return to their roots both on and off the pitch, as part of Laporta's second stint as club president.

In an interview with Esport3, Koeman suggested such a sentiment is ultimately impractical and ignorant of football's evolution, while defending his own tactical choices in charge of the Blaugrana.

"I am in favour of dominating the game," he said. "If you play with three central defenders, you cannot say that it is a defensive system. With this system for three or four months, we played the best games in recent years.

"The clearest example was the [2021 Copa del Rey] final against Athletic. Barcelona lives in the past, from 4-3-3, to Tiki-taka. Football has changed. Now it's faster, more physical.

"You can't live in the past. If you have Xavi, Iniesta... and Messi, who by the way, they took from me. This was a very hard one to take."

Koeman also hinted to the weight lifted off his shoulders after his dismissal, especially within the context of leaving the Netherlands national team to take Barcelona over during a period of significant financial and political upheaval at the club.

Laporta was elected as Barcelona president three months after Koeman's replacement of Quique Setien in 2020.

Set to take over the Netherlands from Louis van Gaal after this year's World Cup, Koeman insists life has become less complicated since leaving, but harbours no regrets about his return to the club he won a Champions League with as a player.

"Leaving was a bit of a liberation," he said. "It was a difficult time for the club, without a president, with Laporta's doubts about the coach.

"You want to be a coach and you know that if you don't win you have problems. I made an effort, I left the national team and if it happened again, I would do it again. I don't regret it.

"As president, you can always have doubts but if you say them to the public, everyone doubts. It was a big mistake on his part."

Barcelona coach Xavi expressed his gratitude for the support from former boss Ronald Koeman as he implored the Blaugrana to respond against Real Mallorca.

Xavi's side sit third in LaLiga, a point behind second-placed Sevilla – who have played a game more – and 15 behind runaway leaders Real Madrid.

However, Barca have fallen to three straight home defeats in all competitions for just the second time in their history, last doing so under Louis van Gaal between the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons.

That torrid run culminated in their elimination from the Europa League and placed slight doubt over Champions League qualification, though they are six points ahead of fifth-placed Real Betis.

Koeman suggested on Thursday that Xavi deserves more support than he received when at Barca, with the Spaniard lifting the Blaugrana from ninth to third following the Dutchman's dismissal last October.

While Xavi welcomed the support of a fellow coach and revealed his admiration for Koeman, the 42-year-old urged Barca to improve against Mallorca on Sunday.

"I'm not going to change the feelings that Ronald has. I wasn't there and I'm not going to give my opinion," he told reporters at a pre-match news conference on Saturday.

"I have tremendous respect and admiration for him. Everyone has to support Barca. I have the utmost respect for Ronald for the work and effort he made. Thank him, nothing more.

"We are here and I do feel the support of the club and of Barcelona in general. It seemed that we had hit the key, but suddenly there were three defeats in a row.

"Now we have to see to the coach, the players, show our faces."

Barca have never lost four home games in a row in their history, and Xavi reiterated his calls for his side to respond against Mallorca, who have lost their last eight league meetings with the Blaugrana.

"It is time to take a step forward," he added. "You have to make more of a team than ever and bring out your personality. It's not because of a bad attitude.

"It's because of situations that have weighed us down. We have to improve. It's time to push it forward and bring out the personality. I have a winning team and that's the reality.

"You have to set challenges. Those who have the most desire will enter the Champions League. This is a club made to win titles. The second is the minimum required.

"On Monday we were angry, on Tuesday less and on Wednesday we were already working.

"It is a reality and you have to prepare yourself for that. You have to have faith to achieve the minimum objective."

Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid will be crowned champions if they avoid defeat against Espanyol the day before Barca are in action.

"If they are champions, we will congratulate them," he said of Madrid.

"They have been better because this is a long competition and usually the one who deserves it wins. We will congratulate them and next year we will compete better."

Ronald Koeman has called on former club Barcelona to show Xavi more support than he received in the Camp Nou dugout and defended his own record with the Blaugrana.

Koeman spent just over a year in the Camp Nou dugout before being sacked in October 2021, winning the Copa del Ray last season but overseeing a third-place finish in LaLiga and the departure of legendary attacker Lionel Messi.

Barca sat ninth in the top flight when the Dutchman departed, but are now favourites to secure Champions League qualification after Xavi oversaw an upturn in results. 

However, the Catalan giants recently lost three successive home games for just the second time in their illustrious history, and Koeman says club president Joan Laporta must show Xavi more support than he was granted during his own spell in charge.

"The situation of Barca, of the team and of the club, is the same as when I was [there]," he said at a golf event in Barcelona. "It means that changing the coach does not always mean being able to improve. The situation of the club hurts me.

"From January I will be the coach of the Netherlands, but I ask for maximum support for Xavi. He is a good coach, a legend at home and it is not his fault that Barca is in this situation.

"The only thing I ask is support for Xavi, I haven't had the full support of a president, I hope he [Laporta] has learned and does support Xavi. I didn't have support from the club and I hope Xavi does.

"Internally, you can say you have doubts, but on the outside there has to be support." 

Barca enjoyed an upturn in results after the January arrivals of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ferran Torres but rivals Real Madrid are now 15 points clear at the top of LaLiga.

Los Blancos will secure their 35th title by earning a point at home to Espanyol on Saturday after winning eight of their last nine league games (one loss), and Koeman says that gap is evidence that his time in charge was not a complete failure, highlighting financial difficulties and presidential elections as having a severe impact throughout his tenure.

 

"When I left, Madrid was eight points ahead and now the difference is almost double," he added. "I don't feel like a failed coach, far from it. 

"In January we were twelve points behind Atletico Madrid, we had the opportunity to be first against Granada and we failed. We kept the Copa and if you win a title it's not a failure.

"I spent many months without a president, I had to make statements about the club's situation, there was financial fair play [issues]. Then Messi and [Antoine] Griezmann left on the last day of the market. 

"I was heavily criticised for signing Luuk Jong, who is very good when you need a finisher. Luckily his goals have given five or six points in the last few minutes. I think that one person or a coach cannot be blamed for the loss of [the club's] DNA."

Koeman will reclaim his former position as Netherlands head coach after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar when he takes over from Louis van Gaal and will be reunited with Blaugrana midfielder Frenkie de Jong.

De Jong has come in for some criticism for his recent displays and has been linked with a move to Manchester United, but Koeman believes the 24-year-old will prove any doubters wrong.

"I don't think Barca wants to sell Frenkie, Xavi doesn't want to either," he added. "You don't have to doubt Frenkie de Jong, I don't doubt him and he's a starter in the national team. We put a player on top of everything and two weeks later we criticise him."

Louis van Gaal confirmed he has successfully undergone treatment for prostate cancer following the reveal of his diagnosis.

The Netherlands coach announced he was suffering from the illness on a Dutch television show earlier this month.

The news raised questions over whether Van Gaal would be well enough to lead the Oranje at this year's World Cup, set to take place in Qatar in November and December.

But now the ex-Barcelona and Manchester United boss has revealed he has successfully received a course of action against the cancer.

"I've been through everything," the 70-year-old told Dutch news agency ANP. "I had 25 radiation treatments. Then I had to wait five or six months to see if it had done its job. It did."

Van Gaal will step down after he has led his country at Qatar 2022, with the Oranje boss looking to better his third-place finish in charge at Brazil 2014.

It will bring the curtain down on his third spell at the helm of the national team, with another former boss in Ronald Koeman set to replace him.

Netherlands next face Belgium, Wales and Poland in their UEFA Nations League kick-off in June.

Ronald Koeman will return to his former role as head coach of the Netherlands national team after the 2022 World Cup.

The former Barcelona boss will take over from Louis van Gaal, who revealed recently on Dutch TV show Humberto he has undergone 25 rounds of radiation treatment for prostate cancer.

The 70-year-old has continued to work and did not tell his players of his condition when the Netherlands squad got together in March for friendlies against Denmark and Germany.

However, Van Gaal will remain in charge for the tournament in Qatar, which takes place between November 21 and December 18, with Koeman resuming the role he left in 2020 after that.

The news was confirmed by the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) on Wednesday.

"I am looking forward to the new collaboration," Koeman said. "A little over a year and a half ago, I certainly did not leave the Dutch national team out of dissatisfaction. 

"My stay felt good, the results were good and the connection with the players was good. We will soon continue on that path, that is certain to me."

Marianne van Leeuwen, director of professional football for the KNVB, said: "We are very happy that Ronald will return next year. During his previous term as national coach, there was great satisfaction with his work and the results.

"That is why, after internal deliberations, together with director of top-level football Nico-Jan Hoogma, I entered into discussions with Ronald and his agent Rob Jansen."

Koeman previously spent just over two years as national team coach between 2018 and 2020, guiding the Netherlands to the final of the 2018-19 Nations League, before leaving for Barca in August 2020.

The Netherlands will face hosts Qatar, Senegal and Ecuador in Group A at the World Cup following Friday's draw.

Ronald Koeman believes he was not afforded the same support successor Xavi has received from the Barcelona hierarchy and says he will not return to the club while Joan Laporta remains president.

In an interview with Dutch newspaper AD, Koeman also questioned why Lionel Messi had to leave Barca, only for the club to reinvest in new attackers under Xavi.

Koeman, who made 264 appearances for the Blaugrana as a player, was sacked as the club's head coach last October with the team sat ninth in LaLiga.

The former Netherlands boss has now opened up on his tenure in the Barca dugout, during which he battled with a dire financial situation and the departure of Camp Nou icon Messi, saying Laporta did not afford him the support he needed.

"I just wasn't Laporta's trainer," the 58-year-old said. "I had that feeling from the very first moment I met him, after he won the election [in January 2021]. There was no click. The necessary support from above was lacking.

"He told me a thousand times that Xavi would not become his trainer either, because he lacked the experience. But he needed a shield, someone to hide behind.

"You won't see me in the Camp Nou for a while, I can't do that yet. Not with this chairman. I can't pretend nothing happened.

"The time the new trainer was given was not given to me. I still find that painful. I was dealing with all those injuries, now Pedri is fit again, and Dembele. [Xavi] had the same problem as me in the beginning: many injured players.

"Every trainer needs time and patience from the leadership. Xavi got that, and reinforcements. He has gained three attackers [Ferran Torres, Adama Traore and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang], I would have liked that too.

"But I'm happy for the club, that things are going better now, and for the players."

 

Meanwhile, the Dutchman also admitted he was confused to see Laporta give the green light to the big-money signing of Torres in January, mere months after the club's financial crisis led to Messi's departure.  

"It was at the insistence of the club management that I agreed to the departure of some players," Koeman stressed. "In order to get the finances in order.

"But when you then see that they attract someone for 55million [the fee paid to Manchester City for Torres] shortly after they let Messi go, you wonder if there wasn't more going on.

"Why did Messi have to leave?"

The arrivals of Xavi and a host of new attackers have had a major impact on the Catalan club, and Barcelona go into Sunday's trip to Elche unbeaten in 10 LaLiga matches (six wins and four draws). 

This marks their longest unbeaten run in the competition since April 2021 (19 games), and the second longest current run in the competition (Sevilla are unbeaten in 12).

The Blaugrana are currently battling a host of clubs, including Atletico Madrid, Real Betis, and Real Sociedad, for Champions League qualification, sitting fourth in LaLiga with 13 games remaining.

Paris Saint-Germain forward Lionel Messi is upset to see Barcelona struggle in his absence and has reiterated he would love to one day return to the club.

Messi's trophy-laden two-decade association with Barcelona came to an end in August when he joined PSG on a free transfer.

He scored a club-record 672 goals for Barca across 778 appearances, but the Catalan giants were unable to honour a contract offered to the player, due to financial restrictions.

The Argentina international's shock exit has left a huge void at Camp Nou, with Barca winning just seven of their 17 matches in all competitions this campaign.

Barca are seventh in LaLiga and have a crucial tie with Benfica on Tuesday as they aim to keep their Champions League last-16 hopes in their own hands.

Asked if his former club's form this season makes him sad, Messi said: "Yes, obviously. I always want the best for Barcelona. I'm a fan even though I'm not playing there now. 

"And I have colleagues and friends there within the team. I want them to do well. It is true that in LaLiga they've dropped many points, but there is still a lot more to play for. I have no doubt that Barcelona will get themselves back up the table."

Messi, who spent 17 seasons in Barca's first team, revealed earlier this month he is open to returning to the LaLiga club in the future in a technical secretary position.

In a wide-ranging interview published by Marca on Tuesday, Messi gave further insight into his recent departure and his future plans.

"I always said that at some point I will return to Barcelona because it is my home and because I am going to live there," he said. "And obviously if I can contribute and help the club I would love to come back.

"My exit is done. I left there and time has passed. What they told me is that they couldn't renew my contract and that I couldn't stay. You don't have to look for more culprits or look back at what happened. I'll stick with what they told me and that's it."

Barca's terrible start to their first season without Messi since 2003-04 led to the sacking of head coach Ronald Koeman in October and the subsequent appointment of Xavi.

Koeman left with a record of 28 wins from his 48 league matches in charge, but Messi believes the Dutchman was treated harshly, saying such dismissals are always "unfair" to coaches.

"When there are bad results, the easiest thing is to target the coach, to replace him and not the players," Messi said.

Messi has made a mixed start to the new chapter in his career with PSG, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner scoring four goals in nine appearances in all competitions.

He netted his first Ligue 1 goal in his sixth outing in the competition last weekend and now feels his "adaption has been pretty fast".

Messi has joined a star-studded cast at PSG that also includes Kylian Mbappe and former Barca team-mate Neymar.

Since the start of the 2015-16 season, the trio each rank in the top seven for goal involvements in all competitions among players from clubs in Europe's top five leagues.

Messi leads the way with a combined 377 goals and assists, with Mbappe fifth on 246 goal involvements and Neymar seventh with 231.

Despite boasting arguably the strongest attack on the continent, Messi does not believe PSG can consider themselves as firm favourites to win the Champions League.

"Everyone says that we are the big favourites and I will not deny that we are one of the candidates by name, but we still need things to become a really strong team," he said.

"We have to finish consolidating as a team and we have the advantage of having very great players to achieve it.  But we are not the only ones, there are other great teams that are candidates."

Xavi said he "really wants to go home", with Barcelona in talks with Al Sadd to make him their new head coach.

Barca's first vice-president Rafael Yuste and director of football Mateu Alemany were in attendance for Al Sadd's 3-3 draw with Al Duhail on Wednesday, a result that kept Xavi's side three points clear at the top of the Stars League. 

The former midfielder, who made 767 appearances for Barca as a player and won 25 trophies during an illustrious spell for the club, has been the frontrunner to take over following the dismissal of Ronald Koeman last week. 

Al Sadd last week insisted Xavi was solely focused on the Qatari club, with whom he has a two-year contract, but the coach confirmed an agreement on his future could be reached in a matter of hours. 

"I really want to go home. The two clubs are in talks and a resolution must be reached. I am very excited, but it's a matter of respect – I have a contract," Xavi told Mundo Deportivo. 

"It would be a return home. The two clubs have to agree. Hopefully it will be done, because I am very eager and excited. 

"I am very positive. I have been very clear about my position. I think it will be a matter of hours, maybe days. They know my stance and hopefully it can be done." 

He added to TV3: "I am a positive person and it is a matter of common sense. They have to agree. The two clubs know my position and I hope it will be sorted soon." 

After a 1-1 draw with Deportivo Alaves in their first game since Koeman's dismissal, Barca boosted their qualification hopes in the Champions League by beating Dynamo Kiev on Tuesday. 

Speaking more generally about what Koeman's successor needs to do at Camp Nou, Xavi added: "The coach who goes does not have to be a messiah. We saw a different Barca yesterday. 

"Everyone has to row in the same direction for Barca to win games. We are all very excited. We will see if it ends up being done, but it would be spectacular." 

Gaizka Mendieta believes Barcelona should have sacked Ronald Koeman earlier to prevent "negative dynamics" from developing at Camp Nou.

Barca parted company with Koeman on Wednesday following a 1-0 LaLiga defeat to Rayo Vallecano, on the back of a home Clasico loss against Real Madrid.

Koeman replaced Quique Setien in August 2020 but has failed to make an impact as he battled with Barca's dire financial situation, which led to Lionel Messi departing for Paris Saint-Germain.

The Blaugrana were ninth in the table ahead of a clash with Alaves on Saturday and have lost two of their three Champions League Group E matches.

Sergi Barjuan has stepped in as caretaker head coach and club legend Xavi is expected to be named as Koeman's successor on a permanent basis.

Former Spain midfielder Mendieta thinks the writing was on the wall for Koeman long ago and feels president Joan Laporta would have fired the former Netherlands defender sooner if the club were not so short of funds.

"I think finances are only of the reasons [why he was not sacked earlier]. Although, like we see now, if it has to come to that they will do anyway," he told Stats Perform.

"So the question is, why they didn't do it earlier? Because Laporta said he was not the man that he wanted for his project, he couldn't find anyone else so he stayed.

"That already started some negative dynamics in the club and in the team. So why don't do it in the first place I think financially was one of the big reasons for them not to do it.

"And then again, you start to generate some sort of bad atmosphere within the team, the club and the fans which is no good for anyone."

 

Mendieta has sympathy for Koeman given the off-field issues he had to contend with.

He added: "When you plan having a season as a manager with Messi on the team, and Messi leaves days before they start the season, then publicly the president or the board says that Koeman is not the manager they would like to have, but because they haven't got any option he stays.

"Then we see these three pillars of the club having different conversations like the board, the managers and the players in kind of everyone trying to save in a way themselves, which is not good for our team, for our club, in any situation.

"And then resources don't arrive, players injured. So there's a lot of ingredients in this kind of difficult situation. However, I still think there's a lot of potential in the team. There have been other players, key players, injured, and they're slowly coming back, hopefully, but they will need time.

"So it's a matter of time of where resources arrive and there's some sort of consistency in the results and the points, because at the moment they win one game, they look like they are in recovery, then they lose the next one, and crisis again."

Page 1 of 17
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.