By Iain Rogers
BARCELONA coach Luis Enrique expects Lionel Messi to remain with the club “for many years” amid widespread reports of a rift between the pair.
Messi was said to be unhappy with Enrique’s management style and tactics, prompting speculation he could seek an exit and reportedly sparking interest from English Premier League sides Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United.
The Argentina forward has said he is not planning to leave the club he joined as a 13-year-old but has not explicitly denied claims he has fallen out with the coach, who took over from Gerardo Martino at the end of last season.
Given the four-time World Player of the Year’s influence at Barca, it is widely expected that Enrique will be the one to leave, particularly as the man who appointed him, sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, was sacked this month.
“We all think – and he has expressed the same thing several times – that Leo is going to stay at Barca for many years,” Enrique told a news conference ahead of Thursday’s King’s Cup last-16 second leg at Elche.
“That is what all of us ‘cules’ (Barca fans) want,” added the former Barca and Spain midfielder.
“I don’t see why – well, I do but I don’t understand why – there is so much talk about it when we are not even considering it.”
Barca have a 5-0 lead over Elche from the first leg at the Nou Camp and are on course for a likely meeting with Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals.
Diego Simeone’s men beat Real 2-0 at the Calderon last week and play the return at the Bernabeu on Thursday.
Enrique said Barca’s dressing room was united and everyone was focused on bouncing back from last season when the club failed to win major silverware for the first time in six years.
“We are all together,” he told reporters. “We discuss things we can improve and how we can damage our opponents, as always. A normal and logical dynamic for any football team.”