Lionel Messi has made his return for Barcelona for the first time since his dramatic transfer U-turn after starting the Catalan club’s pre-season friendly against Gimnastic de Tarragona.
The brilliant Argentine only returned to pre-season training on Monday this week after his very public fall-out with the club but Ronald Koeman asked Messi to play as the coach looks to dampen the furore that has surrounded their talisman.
Barcelona went into meltdown when Messi announced he had made up his mind to leave following a hugely disappointing end to last season
He told Barca that he wanted to exercise a clause in his contract which allowed him to leave for free only for the club to insist it had lapsed at the end of what would have been the regular season pre-Covid.
He was told his buyout clause or legal action was the only way to leave the club he had grown up with and, reluctant to sue them, relented, though not before taking a swipe at president Josep Bartomeu saying he had broken promises.
‘The president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I wanted to go or if I wanted to stay and in the end he didn’t end up keeping his word,’ Messi said.
‘And this is the reason why I am going to continue in the club… because the president told me that the only way to leave was to pay the 700-million-euro release clause.
‘This is impossible, and then the other way was to go to trial. I would never go to court against Barca because it is the club that I love, that gave me everything since I arrived, it is the club of my life, I have made my life here.’
More than 7,500 Barcelona members have since signed a censure motion aiming to oust Bartomeu in a vote of no confidence following the saga.
Messi, however, returned last week and assured fans: ‘My attitude won’t change because I wanted to leave. I will give my all.’
As if to underline his commitment, he arrived an and a half before his first session on Monday, was the first to arrive On Tuesday and Wednesday and on Thursday, the team’s day off, went in to train again.
Now he has pulled on a Barca shirt again tonight at the Johan Cruyff Stadium.
Koeman, for his part, had prepared for Messi’s departure but will now seek to integrate him into a new-look side.
He has been tasked with overhauling an ageing squad that will see the likes of Luis Suarez moved on. He wants Lyon’s Memphis Depay and Liverpool’s Gini Wijnaldum to join him but Barcelona are struggling financially, especially as they face the prospect of paying up several contracts.