Lionel Messi was back in full training with Barcelona on Wednesday for the first time since conceding defeat in his battle to leave the club.
Unlike Monday, when the 33-year-old Argentine superstar had to train alone under La Liga’s coronavirus protocols, he joined up with the rest of the squad in the session taken by new coach Ronald Koeman.
A club statement reported that others returning to the main group were Philippe Coutinho, Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong and Ansu Fati.
Messi faces another season with the Catalan club after losing his stand-off with Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu over a 700 million-euro release clause.
Koeman’s first match in charge since replacing Quique Setien in the aftermath of last month’s humiliating 8-2 Champions League pounding by Bayern Munich is a friendly against third division opposition on Saturday.
This is a video from Messi’s first training session, posted on September 7:
This is a video posted on September 9, about the squad’s second intense session:
In an explosive interview with Goal, Messi announced his decision to stay at Barcelona. But it was not quite happy news for Barcelona fans as he blamed the club’s president Josep Maria Bartomeu for “breaking his word” over a much-disputed exit clause in his contract.
He had said he would continue to give his best for the team but maintained he had tried to leave the club because he “wanted to live his last years of football happily”.
The return of Barcelona’s embittered captain and greatest ever player may not be an easy one, particularly given some of his closest team-mates are likely to leave.
Luis Suarez, Messi’s best friend and neighbour, as well as Arturo Vidal, are expected to join Juventus and Inter Milan respectively.
“Now I don’t know what will happen,” Messi said on Friday.
“There is a new coach and new ideas. That’s good, but then we have to see how the team responds and whether or not it will allow us to compete at the top level. What I can say is that I’m staying and I’m going to give my best for Barcelona.”
Long-term future in doubt
Messi’s decision to notify the club via burofax that he intended to leave came shortly after he met with Koeman, talks that reportedly involved the Dutchman taking a hard line.
Koeman said in his first press conference he “only wanted players who want to be here and give everything”.
Messi also refused to attend either a coronavirus test or Koeman’s first week of pre-season training last week, as his lawyers believed participating would harm his case in a potential legal battle with the club.
But Messi opted not to go down that route, insisting he could never go to court against “the club of my life”.
Yet his long-term future remains in doubt given Messi can talk to other clubs in January and leave for free when his contract expires on June 30.
Barcelona have been given an extra two weeks off to recover before they start their La Liga season against Villarreal, scheduled for September 27.
(With AFP inputs)