Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez has said the door will always be open for Lionel Messi to return to Camp Nou following fresh speculation over the striker’s future.
Messi, 35, is out of contract with Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season and reports in Spain this week claimed his father Jorge recently met with Barca president Joan Laporta.
The meeting is said to be mainly related to arranging a possible tribute for Messi after he leaves Barca in 2021, but also helped lay the groundwork for the Argentina international’s plans after the summer.
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“This is his home and the door is always open,” Xavi told a press conference ahead of Thursday’s Europa League game with Manchester United when asked about the rumored meeting.
“[Messi] he is a friend and we are in permanent contact. It depends on what he wants for his future and how the club sees it. He is the best player in the world and the best of all time. It would always fit [the team].”
Sources have told ESPN that PSG remain keen to extend Messi’s contract, while they have reportedly attracted interest from Inter Miami CF and clubs in Saudi Arabia.
Change could also happen to Barca’s rivals this week, with United being sold by the Glazer family, who value the club at around €6 billion.
One of the bidders for the Premier League club is Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani, the chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank and someone Xavi knows from his time in Qatar.
“I know him well because I worked in Qatar for six years,” Xavi said. “He is a very good person, responsible, serious, he is a good choice [for United].”
United and Barca go head-to-head at Old Trafford for a place in the last 16 of the Europa League on Thursday. After a 2-2 draw at Camp Nou last week, the tie remains wide open.
“United are one of the best teams in Europe and it shows in terms of competitiveness, performance and results,” Xavi added. “This is the best United in recent years. They are coming back, they are even fighting for the Premier League. It is the perfect setting to show that Barca can compete with a big European team.
“I will say to the players: ‘The pressure is on me, go out there and enjoy this stage.’ I would give anything to play at Old Trafford again on a big European night with a special atmosphere.”
Barca sit eight points adrift at the top of LaLiga, but early exits from the Champions League in each of the last two seasons have tempered the euphoria for now.
“We will see on Thursday if we have changed in relation to [past European failures]Xavi said. “This year we are in the Europa League, so we were not at the level required in the Champions League.
“We can’t say we’re back. This is a huge test and where we have to prove ourselves is on the pitch.”
Barca will be without three key players for the game. Ousmane Dembele and Pedri are both injured, while Gavi will serve a one-match ban.
“I would single out the loss of Dembele,” says Xavi. “He is key for us, he is someone who can make a difference. Pedrey brings order and Gavi, with his intensity, would be perfect for such a game.
“But we are here to compete. Absentees cannot be an excuse. I think we have the team to win and go through.”