With the pre-season kicking up a notch ahead of the 2021/22 season, Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman took time out to speak to the club’s media channels, where he discussed various subjects ranging from Lionel Messi to transfers and injured players.
Speaking to Barca TV+, Koeman, who was criticised by fans for the style of play employed last season, insisted that the team wants to play an attractive brand of football, but at the same time needs to prioritise winning trophies as well. “We are a club that try to play well, attractive, but we have the responsibility to win important things,” he said.
The Dutchman opened up on Lionel Messi and his Copa America triumph with Argentina, claiming that the 34-year-old had become the favourite to win the Ballon d’Or. “I know how much Messi wanted to win the Copa America. He is the top candidate for the Ballon d’Or after the great season he had and for winning the Copa America. For me, he is the favourite to win the Ballon d’Or this year.”
Koeman’s thoughts on the new signings
The chat moved to Barcelona’s four new summer signings – Sergio Aguero, Eric Garcia, Emerson Royal and Memphis Depay, as Koeman gave his thoughts on each of the new faces and what they would add to the team.
“Aguero? We had to improve our performance in attack, and he is a very experienced and dangerous player in the area. The most important thing is that he is physically fit and our goal is to keep him in good shape,” the manager said of Aguero and the need to keep him fit and firing after a difficult year at Manchester City.
Moving on to Memphis Depay, a player that he pushed to sign, Koeman said: “I know Memphis very well and he knows how to work. He has a lot of character, physicality, pace, he can play in various positions in attack. He is at the right age to be able to show it.”
Koeman was also effusive in his praise for Eric Garcia and Emerson, hailing the duo for their progress and breakthrough into their respective national teams, despite their young age.
Pedri’s progress, de Jong’s development and injuries
Pedri was perhaps the biggest positive to come out of last season for Barcelona, with the teenager developing into a key cog in midfield for Koeman & co. The 18-year-old stole the show at the UEFA Euro 2020 with Spain, drawing praise from the Dutchman, although the Barca boss did express concerns over burnout as the youngster will be involved in the Olympics as well.
“His EURO 2020 tournament was phenomenal. At 18 he played almost all minutes, with impressive maturity. His game continues to improve and he’s a very honest and calm boy. He lives for football. He is an example of how a young man has to be at Barca. Pedri has played a lot. We will have to give him a break, everyone needs it during the summer.” he said.
Koeman also hailed compatriot Frenkie de Jong for the improvement he showed in his second year at Camp Nou, saying: “Frenkie has to continue on this way. He took a giant step in his second season, he has improved his offensive game and, like all midfielders, he must score between three and six goals.”
Finally, Koeman also gave his thoughts on Ansu Fati’s fitness problems as well as Ousmane Dembele’s latest injury that has sidelined him for four months. “Ansu had very bad luck with his knee. He lacks some time before he can join group training. It’s important that he recovers well because he’s young and he has a great future ahead of him.
“I am very disappointed with his [Dembele’s] injury. In addition, the situation with his contract is complicated. It is a pity for him and for us. He contributed a lot last year, he is different to what we have.”
Barcelona begin their preparations for the new campaign with a friendly against Gimnastic next week, which will be followed by another game against Girona, before a clash against German outfit VfB Stuttgart.