Ronald Koeman has extended his hand to Lionel Messi by calling him “the best” as Barcelona get ready to play their first game since Messi’s failed attempt to leave this summer.
Barca faces Gimnastic Tarragona in a friendly on Saturday and Messi could feature after Koeman said he will field two separate line-ups in each half.
Messi only returned to pre-season training on Monday and has worked on the squad’s days off as he tries to make up for lost time following a chaotic few weeks.
Koeman said last month he only hoped to keep players who wanted to be at the club and he then held a meeting with Messi, in which he reportedly took a hard line with the Argentinian.
But after Messi’s explosive interview with Goal last week, in which he said he had been forced to stay but pledged to give his all for the team, Koeman struck a more conciliatory tone on Friday.
“I have already said it several times that Messi is the best,” said Koeman.
“Messi when he is physically fit is a very important player as he has shown for many years and I hope he can repeat it this year.”
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Earlier on Friday, Barcelona’s vice president Pau Vilanova said the club had taken heed of Messi’s criticism after the 33-year-old expressed his frustration with the direction of the team.
It is the first time someone on the Barca board has spoken publicly since Messi declared his position.
“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.”