Barcelona have taken heed of Lionel Messi’s scathing criticism of the club as they begin a “fresh and exciting project”, vice-president Pau Vilanova has said.
Vilanova’s assessment is the first time someone on the Barca board has spoken publicly since Messi’s explosive interview with Goal last week. Messi admitted he had been forced to stay this summer but said he had wanted to leave and was dismayed by the lack of direction at the top of the club.
“We are very happy that Messi is with us and has joined this exciting project,” said Vilanova on Friday. “You have to take his words into consideration and for this reason we are starting a recovery, for this reason we are beginning a new, fresh and exciting project.”
Messi returned to pre-season training under new coach Ronald Koeman this week. The 33-year-old turned up an hour and a half early for the first session on Monday and has been working on the team’s days off as he tries to make up for lost time following a chaotic few weeks.
Barcelona play a friendly against Gimnastic Tarragona on Saturday and then Elche and Girona, before starting their La Liga season at home to Villarreal at the end of the month. All eyes will be on Messi and whether he has the motivation to reintegrate and find his best form again.
“In any profession, we’ve all had doubts about our situation and then, after some reflection, we have decided to continue or to leave,” said Vilanova. “In this case he will continue and he will be motivated.”
Messi was particularly critical of Barcelona’s president Josep Maria Bartomeu, whom he accused of going back on his word over an agreement to let him leave. “We hope and wish that there is a respect and togetherness so the club can function,” said Vilanova. “Obviously, there are people from the club who are talking to him.” After Barcelona’s historic 8-2 defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League, Bartomeu brought forward the presidential elections, which will be held on March 20 and 21.
But more than 7,500 members have signed a petition to be rid of him sooner, with 16,500 signatures needed to trigger a vote of no confidence.
“We have set the date of the assembly and the elections,” added Vilanova. “In short, we are working for the good of Barca.”