Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has defended Lionel Messi following recent criticism, telling Esport3 he will improve his contract and ensure that the forward can “lead the future of the club.”
Messi has come under fire in the media for the way he has played during a run of three successive defeats, which saw Barca exit the Champions League, lose ground in the title race and then suffer a defeat to Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey final.
A recent poll on the Marca newspaper’s website, meanwhile, saw a majority of voters handing the Argentina international negative ratings for his overall performance this season.
Bartomeu said the club must “pamper” the 26-year-old during this difficult period.
“We are being unfair to Leo,” he said. “Our club members need to understand that we must take care of Messi. He has made such an important contribution to this club and he will continue to do so. That's why we have no doubt that he will lead the future of the club. He is young, he is the best player in the world, and we believe in him.”
He added that Barca intend to offer him a “modification” to his contract, which ties him to the club until 2018.
“We want to improve it because he deserves it and to adapt it to football's current circumstance,” Bartomeu said, adding that the club’s relationship with the player’s father is “magnificent.”
Barca coach Gerardo Martino also spoke out in defence of his compatriot, expressing surprise at stories Messi could leave the Camp Nou.
“That people are talking about Messi's future surprises us,” he told a news conference. “I don't take those comments seriously. A football player, when he finds himself in these types of circumstances, focuses on the game. Sometimes they can play better or worse, but since it is [Messi] everything is overblown. His future must be in Barcelona until he stops playing.”
Bartomeu, meanwhile, has said Barca intend to undergo a “major refurbishment” of the squad led by sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, but he said it would not be “a revolution” of the type seen under Joan Laporta, who held the club presidency from 2003 until 2010.
“Many decisions have already been made and he [Zubizarreta] will announce them,” Bartomeu added.
Barcelona are hoping to overturn a transfer ban imposed by FIFA that would prevent them from making signings for the next two transfer windows.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.