BARCELONA

Barcelona: I crossed my fingers that Messi would stay, says Sergi Roberto

Sergi Roberto has talked to RAC1 about Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi's attempt to leave the LaLiga club this close season.

Messi? I crossed my fingers that he would stay at Barca – Roberto

Barcelona's Sergi Roberto has said he crossed his fingers that Lionel Messi would stay at the club after handing in a transfer request this summer.

Messi stunned the world last month when he informed Barça of his intention to depart the LaLiga giants, with the 33-year-old intending to trigger a clause in his contract to walk away on a free transfer at the end of last season.

However, the validity of such a stipulation was murky due to the campaign being extended by the coronavirus pandemic, and six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi ultimately opted to remain in Catalonia rather than challenge Barcelona in a legal battle.

"I thought the same as all the Catalans, that it could not be true"

Asked about Messi heading into 2020-21, Roberto told RAC1: "I thought the same as all the Catalans, that it could not be true that Messi did not continue with us.

"I cannot imagine a Barça without Leo and I crossed my fingers so that he would stay. I see him training very well. He is a very professional player and I have no doubt that he will always give 100 per cent for this shirt and this club."

Ronald Koeman is at the helm as Barça prepare for their LaLiga opener against Villarreal on Sunday.

Koeman replaced Quique Setién, who was only appointed in January, after Barça were dethroned by bitter rivals Real Madrid in LaLiga and humiliated 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals last season.

"He [Koeman] has made us work a lot," Roberto said. "The training sessions have been very long.

"We are working very well. He tells the players things clearly and that is good for the team. I fully trust the coach and all the players."

"Atlético will be much stronger" if Luis Suárez joins Los Rojiblancos

As well as a new coach, there are changes with Barça's playing personnel following Arturo Vidal's move to Inter and Ivan Rakitic's return to Sevilla.

Full-back Nelson Semedo is also poised to join Wolves in the Premier League, while veteran forward Luis Suárez is in discussions to swap Barça for rivals Atlético Madrid.

"The president or the new coach must decide who they trust and who they will count on," added Roberto.

"I have a special appreciation for Suárez. He is a player who has given a lot all these years. If he ends up leaving, Atlético will be much stronger."