Barca's Koeman defends Messi, denies Griezmann issues

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Champions League - Group G - FC Barcelona v Dynamo Kyiv
FILE PHOTO: Champions League - Group G - FC Barcelona v Dynamo Kyiv

MADRID (Reuters) - Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman has played down notions of a rift between club great Lionel Messi and fellow forward Antoine Griezmann.

Earlier this month Griezmann's former agent, Eric Olhats, told France Football that the Argentine had a problem with his ex-client, leading Messi to snap at journalists upon his return from international duty.

When asked about the subject ahead of Saturday's visit to Atletico Madrid, Koeman said the duo get along.

"I can understand why Leo (Messi) snapped. After such a long journey you're asked about Antoine (Griezmann). It smacks of a lack of respect," he told a news conference on Friday.

"I know you might be looking for a problem, but in the changing rooms I've never seen any notion of a bad relationship between those two."

Koeman said that Messi - whose contract expires next summer and who has once again been linked with a move to Manchester City after their coach Pep Guardiola signed a new contract - will be the one who decides his future.

"I hope he will stay in Barcelona; it's unbelievable what he did for this club. But he is the main person to know and make the decision about his future," he said.

Koeman will be without Ansu Fati, Samuel Umtiti, Sergio Busquets and Ronald Araujo for the trip to Atletico, who sit six points above the Catalans.

"It's an important game, both for our mindset and also the points that are available," Koeman said.

"We're on the right track. Atletico are a side who know how to play in different ways, depending on who the opponent is, just like Barca do."

The Dutchman also criticised the avalanche of games his side are facing, with the visit to Atletico the first of 10 matches in 32 days, on the back of an international break when countries played three times.

"Above all for the big sides it's a really hectic schedule," he said. "It's not good to have three international matches instead of two. I was an international coach and I never took risks with a player: I'd always think about the club, too."

(Reporting by Joseph Cassinelli; Editing by Toby Davis)