Ronald Koeman, the Barcelona coach, insists Lionel Messi will not let his anger over the ugly exit of Luis Suarez affect his performances on the pitch.
The beleaguered Spanish giants kick off their La Liga campaign tomorrow against Villarreal after another tumultuous week at the Camp Nou during which Messi slammed the club for “kicking out” teammate Suarez.
Messi, whose own efforts to leave Barca this summer were thwarted because it was “impossible” for any club to pay his release clause, aimed a fresh dig at his employers on Friday over the treatment of Suarez, who joined rivals Atletico Madrid this week.
However, Koeman, who traded potential glory with Holland at Euro 2021 to take charge of a club at its lowest ebb, said he could understand Messi’s outrage given his close friendship with fellow South American Suarez, but believes the club’s talisman is fully committed to the cause.
“It’s normal for a player to be sad when a friend of his leaves the club [after] everything they’re lived together. But the important thing for me is the attitude of Messi in training,” Koeman said at a press conference on Saturday.
“I haven’t seen an intensity-free workout [from him].
“He’s shown it in Friday and this morning’s workouts, and he’s going to prove it in the matches. I have no doubt about Messi in that regard.”
Koeman, who earned legendary status at Barca as a player, believes his portrayal as a “bad guy” in the Suarez transfer saga is unfair, despite reports that he informed the Uruguayan he was surplus to requirements.
Koeman said ahead of their opening game: “It seemed that I had been the bad guy in this movie, but it is not like that.
“Since the call [regarding Suarez’s future], I have shown respect for him and I have always told him that it can be difficult to play but, if he stayed, he would be one of the squad.
“Before I signed the contract, the club was thinking about things, and I have tried to support those things. They are not just decisions of the coach.
“Luis and I respect each other and we have spoken clearly about his future. He had the opportunity to go to Atletico and I wish all the luck in the world.”
Messi, who looked set to become the highest paid player in football history by joining Premier League side Manchester City this summer – reportedly for a deal worth as much as €700million ($814 million) over the course of five years – let rip into Barca for their treatment of Suarez.
He wrote on Instagram: “I had already begun to imagine it but today I went into the dressing room and it truly dawned on me. It’s going to be so difficult to not continue to share every day with you both on the pitches and away from them.”
“We’re going to miss you so much. We spent many years together, many lunches and many dinners. So many things we will never forget, all the time we spent together.
“It will be strange to see you in another shirt and much more to come against you on the pitch.
“You deserved a farewell that fit with who you are: one of the most important players in the history of the club. Someone who achieved great things for the team and on an individual level.
“You did not deserve for them to kick you out like they did. But the truth is that at this stage nothing surprises me anymore.”
Messi, who will turn 34 this season and is no longer at the peak of his powers, looks likely to leave Barca for free next summer unless they can convince him to pen a new deal.
But that seems highly unlikely given the souring of the relationship between him and the club’s hierarchy.
Koeman, who replaced Quique Setien after he was fired following the Catalans’ 8-2 humiliation by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals last month, will be hoping for a positive start to his regime at home to Villarreal.
Their opponents have already started their season, drawing 1-1 against newly promoted Huesca before beating SD Eibar 2-1.
Barca, Atletico and Sevilla are starting the season later because of their Champions League and Europa League excursions.