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Bartomeu: We told Messi we wanted Barcelona to be his last club in Europe
Former Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu has revealed details of his conversations with Lionel Messi relating to the Argentine star's request and ultimately failed attempt to leave the club in August 2020.
The footballing world hasn’t heard much from Josep Bartomeu since the former Barcelona president and his board stepped down in October last year ahead of the result of a vote of no confidence motion to remove him.
But this week, Bartomeu has returned to the media spotlight, giving a series of interviews to Barcelona’s three biggest sporting newspapers, Sport, Mundo Deportivo and L'Esportiu, in which he divulged details about Lionel Messi’s failed attempt to leave Camp Nou in August 2020, and blasted his successor Joan Laporta for allowing the circumstances that forced the former captain to depart this summer.
“I say it as someone who fought for [Messi] to stay in the summer of 2020; I have always thought that he was essential. Letting Messi go was a bad decision, a mistake," Bartomeu told Mundo Deportivo.
"It is fundamental that he be with us for his sporting and institutional contribution. I have always thought about it that way. He represents much more than a footballer (..) Why wasn’t he happy? You have to ask Leo (...) Because there was no project? In 2019 we won LaLiga and it could have been a treble year, but we lost a game in which Liverpool didn’t even have a chance.
“We told him: ‘We want Barça to be your last club in Europe. If you later want to go to another continent, no problem. But we want you to continue’. And that’s a bit of the story of the summer of 2020: us saying that we wanted him to stay and him saying that he wanted to go, but without knowing where. He was always asked where he wanted to go.”
Bartomeu on Coutinho, Dembélé, Griezmann
Bartomeu also discussed three players signed during his tenure, Philippe Coutinho, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembélé. Griezmann has since moved after failing to make a sizable impact at Camp Nou, while Coutinho and Dembélé have also been identified for their shortcomings at Barcelona.
Coutinho missed most of last season through injury following a one-season loan spell with Bayern Munich after a disappointing first year in the Blaugrana shirt, while a constant stream of injuries have stopped Dembéle reaching his full potential since his arrival at Camp Nou in 2017.
"Signing Coutinho was an idea loved by the coaches, and even more so after Iniesta told us that it would be his last year. We tried to get him to stay. But he preferred not to accept. And yes, Messi and Suárez, among others, insisted that Coutinho was a great signing,” said Bartomeu, apparently suggesting that Messi and Suarez had a significant influence on Barcelona’s decision to sign Coutinho.
Regarding Dembélé, Bartomeu stressed that the French midfielder “has been unlucky”.
“He's a great player and I hope he now shows his quality. In 2020, after Ansu [Fati’s] 'no', an English club requested to sign Dembélé for more than we paid for him. But we had him in our plans. In January 2018 we signed Coutinho, as the proven best in the Premier League, and due to circumstances he has not triumphed [at Barcelona] like did there or with his national team (Brazil).”
The former Barcelona president also recalled the signing of Griezmann, who returned to Altético Madrid this summer after two disappointing seasons at Barcelona. "Planning has always existed, and especially so with him. We had been working on it for a long time and if we paid for him it was because there was money to do so,” he said. “There was no deferred payment agreement, as is done with many clubs, but a direct payment of the clause.”