Barcelona President Bartomeu opens up about Messi transfer saga for the first time

Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on during the Joan Gamper Trophy match between FC Barcelona and Elche CF on September 19, 2020 in Barcelona, Spain.

It's more than two weeks since Lionel Messi slammed Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu for reneging on an agreement and refusing to allow him to leave Camp Nou.

The under-fire chief finally broke his silence on Saturday and explained his decision to keep the club's leading all-time scorer against his will.

"As president, I will not enter into any conflict with Messi," Bartomeu told Catalan television network TV3. "Messi is our captain, the leader. We have seen him in recent days and does his talking on the field as we have seen. The issue is parked. What has been said has been said."

"I couldn't allow, like anyone on the board or coaching staff, to let the best player in the world go. The team needs him. Things have to be discussed at home. You have to support the team and the players," he added.

Bartomeu is set to face a vote of no-confidence from the club's members after a campaign group seeking to oust him gathered the necessary number of signatures on Thursday to force the vote. 

But the 57-year-old remained defiant despite the fact that an official decision on his immediate future is expected within the next two weeks.

"The board and I will keep working to ensure we have the most competitive team possible," he said. "We will speak again after validating the votes, but right now, no one wants to quit. The club won’t stop, and we will keep working; we have lots of issues to sort out."

"We have to congratulate ourselves that Messi is still with us. He is excited about Koeman. The important thing is he plays for Barca, at his home. We want him to retire at the club and to start a project with Messi," he said.

Later in the day, Antoine Griezmann netted the winner as Barcelona beat Elche 1-0 in their final pre-season friendly, making it three victories from three for new coach Ronald Koeman's side.

Messi, who scored twice on Wednesday in Barcelona's 3-1 win over second-division Girona, made the crucial pass before Griezmann poked home a Jordi Alba cut-back. Luis Suarez was again left out of the squad amid transfer speculation.

Barcelona will kick off their La Liga campaign next Sunday at home to Villarreal.

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