Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu has thrown his support behind Ousmane Dembele, stating that the club have 'lots of trust' in his talent despite inconsistent performances as the Catalan club prepares for life without Lionel Messi.
Messi, Barca's all-time leading goalscorer, has been with the club since 2001, graduating from the club's famed La Masia academy before going on to help the Spanish side to an incredible 34 trophies throughout his time in the first team.
The 32-year-old may not be showing any signs of slowing down in terms of his on-field contributions, but the time will eventually come when the Blaugrana can no longer count on their star man.
Barca have spent big in recent years as part of their post-Messi plans, bringing in the likes of Dembele, Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong, and Bartomeu feels that the foundations are in place for a new generation of winners despite a shaky start to the 2019-20 season.
“In the next two or three seasons our leader will continue to be Leo Messi,” the club supremo told The Associated Press. “But it's true that there are other young players who are coming through – players coming from abroad, but also players coming from our La Masia.
“We are very happy because we are preparing this post-Messi era. Messi's contract finishes in 2021, but surely it will be the will of all parties involved – if he feels strong and still has the ambition – to extend his contract indefinitely.
“I always make a comparison with Pele. Pele was a man of a single club... I have no doubts that after Messi finishes his career as a footballer he will remain linked to this club for the rest of his life.”
Dembele, signed as a replacement for Neymar, now at PSG, has not enjoyed the best of starts to life at Camp Nou, with disciplinary issues and injury problems seeing his quality questioned due to a hefty transfer fee.
Bartomeu, however, insists that he has the full backing of the club as they strive to get the best out of a man who could go some way to filling a Messi-shaped hole in the future.
“Arriving at Barca and triumphing isn't easy,” the president said of the French forward. “Coutinho's adaptation wasn't so easy – he is a world-class star but we opted for a loan to Bayern Munich this year.
“Ousmane has had bad luck with injuries but we have lots of trust in his talent.”