Barcelona boss wants club to ‘close the book’ on Leo Messi

Ronald Koeman is looking for Barcelona to “close the book” on Lionel Messi with Ansu Fati and Phillipe Coutinho being set the challenge of filling iconic boots at Camp Nou.

After 17 memorable years of remarkable performances from Messi, the Blaugrana are bracing themselves to open a campaign without him at their disposal.

Financial issues in Catalunya prevented fresh terms from being put in place with Messi, allowing him to depart as a free agent and link up with Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain.

Filling a Messi-shaped void will be an impossible task for Koeman, but the Dutch coach is eager to escape a shadow that will continue to loom large over his squad.

He told ESPN: “We have to understand that there is always an end for a player. You have to close the book because now we have to focus on this new season. We have new players in and we have to move forward, and we have time for that.

“We have young players in the squad this season, and it’s also for the future, we are working on the future of this club, and it’s really important to have our focus on this and not focus on what happened in the last few days.”

On seeing the six-time Ballon d’Or winner depart, Koeman said: “I knew there was a difficult situation between the club and Leo Messi and the league to have the possibilities to keep Messi in the club.

“It takes a long time, but I was also surprised by the day and the moment that I heard that he was finished playing for Barcelona. I knew the financial situation of the club made it more difficult.

“I think it was difficult because we are not just talking about any player, we are talking about Leo Messi, the best player in the world through a lot of seasons and we were all disappointed that he will not play for us this season.

“OK, you have to change fast because you don’t stay in the disappointment with the new season starting. You have to understand it was for a few days a difficult situation. Messi meant so much for this club.”

Barcelona are going to need someone, potentially a group of players, to step up and help counter the absence of the South American superstar.

Koeman added: “Of course we will have more difficulties to score goals. Messi scored 30 goals last season. So other players need to bring more and take the next step and it’s more about the team now than individual players.

“It’s not always one player, you have to do it together. Hopefully, we get players back from injury like Ansu Fati and Coutinho and then we still have a strong squad. We will work harder, we will do more to achieve what people expect from us.

“We are still in the transition. We have to understand that the start of this season is difficult. We still have Covid, for all the clubs, but still we have players with injuries so we cannot put all the players for playing because we are still missing good players.

“We did a good pre-season, we have young players in, but if we get all the players back from injury the squad is still a strong one.”

Barca are set to open their 2021-22 Liga campaign at home to Real Sociedad on Sunday.

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