Lionel Messi would have already left Barcelona had his contract expired this summer, claims Camp Nou presidential candidate Agusti Benedito, with Josep Maria Bartomeu’s regime slammed for edging the captain towards the exits.
As things stand, a six-time Ballon d’Or winner remains tied to the Blaugrana.
Contract extension talks have been shelved, though, and serious questions are being asked of Messi’s ongoing presence in Catalunya as he enters the final 12 months of his current terms.
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A fresh start elsewhere is being mooted for the mercurial Argentine, with the likes of Inter, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City said to be keeping a close eye on his situation.
Benedito fears Messi may have grown disillusioned with life in a testing era for Barca, with the club’s current board having failed to address the issues which resulted in a humbling finish to the 2019-20 campaign.
“Unfortunately, I think Bartomeu will finally achieve Messi’s departure from Barcelona,” Benedito, who finished second in Barca’s 2015 presidential vote, told Sport.
“It would be the latest error on a long list and the most tragic of the Bartomeu-Rosell era, which has been a nightmare for the history of our club.
“If Messi was out of contract this summer, I am sure he would leave. Since Neymar left, Messi’s not been as happy.”
Barca will be holding another round of elections in March 2021, while they are currently looking into fixing faults on the field which delivered no major silverware in 2020.
Ronald Koeman has been returned to familiar surroundings as part of that process, with the Dutchman signing a two-year deal as the club’s new head coach, but the expectation is that another former favourite in the form of Xavi will be handed the reins at some stage in the near future.
Benedito believes that will be the case, saying: “Look, I think he’s been the most important player in Barca’s history after Messi. I admire him a lot.
“He’s spent five years in Qatar now and I honestly think before he takes charge he should do what other legends did: Luis Enrique and [Pep] Guardiola. That’s to say coach the B team or join Koeman’s staff.”
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Benedito added on Koeman: “If I won the elections in 2015, he would have been our manager. I went to see him in London when he was at Southampton and signed a pre-agreement.
“If I win this time, Koeman will still be the Barcelona coach.
“He’s a club legend and an experienced coach with great character. He has the advantage of being a disciple of Cruyff and could open a glorious era at Barca, as Johan did in the 90s.”
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