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Josep Maria Bartomeu gave an extensive press conference in order to assess the year as we are reaching its conclusion. During 117 minutes he responded to questions from all the accredited media outlets with a large part of the questions focusing on the figure of Leo Messi and his contract renewal, with discussions planned for the next few months.
The President recognised that “Messi has been the best player in the history of football and we will put all our efforts into keeping him as this is his home. If he is the best in the world, it is logical that he is the best in all areas.”
Bartomeu was very optimistic about the chances of the Argentinian staying with his lifelong club as he is convinced Messi himself wants to stay. “He is happy here, he was brought up here in the academy and he is one more Catalan, he likes the city and these are his colours. It would be a story to tell future generations, that the best player in the world spent his career here and following his retirement he will continue to be linked to the Club.”
The President has confirmed what the Sporting Vice President, Jordi Mestre, said about wanting to complete the renewal in the first trimester of 2017. “It is what we hope for and what we will work towards. Ideally it will happen like this but we have time.”
Barça's President answered a plethora of questions about Messi and whether he will remain at the Club. Bartomeu believes that the problems the Argentinian has had with his tax won't influence his decision to stay and the President arduously defended Barça's star player. He believes the prison sentence imposed on Messi and his father is completely unjust: “I think it is an error to give prison sentences. We shouldn't criminalise the players, they are footballers and when they sign professional contracts they put their trust in their financial advisors. The trial and what was said about it make no sense.”
Bartomeu criticised the “legal insecurity” which football is currently experiencing due to the changes in fiscal rules which are creating lots of confusion and worry amongst footballers and their advisors. “It can't be possible that everyone gets it wrong, I don't believe it. We are talking about lots of players. You can't change the criteria and the interpreation of the rules and go back. We need rules that can be followed and if the interpretation changes it shouldn't be applied retrospectively it should be applied from that moment onwards.”
On the subject of Messi and the Ballon d'Or, the President questioned whether Ronaldo was a more worthy winner: “A lot of people have said this, not just me, the Ballon d'Or should be Messi's every year as he is the best player in the history of football. There are other good players but Messi is undoubtedly number one.”
Luis Enrique and other renovations
Continuing with the issues that affect future renewals, the president has confirmed that the will "of the Club and all the Barça fans is that Luis Enrique continues" but that they will not sit down and talk to the coach "until April or May”. He continued: “Now we are very focused on the competition, but the club and all fans are very happy with Luis Enrique. He has brought a lot of success, he is continuing the winning cycle that began in 2004 and we all want him to stay at Barça”.
Bartomeu also mentioned that, in the next few months, other renovations will also be addressed, such as that of Iniesta -“we would be delighted for Andrés finishes his playing career at Barça” said the president, as well as Ter Stegen or Rakitic, the futures of whom he would like wrapped up by the end of the season. “It would delight us, because we would end the season preparing for the next. That is why we have a team headed by Robert Fernández who is working to achieve it”. He refuted that any players would be leaving in the coming window and said “the Board of Directors has no proposal for new signings on the table for January”.
Bartomeu, as he did during the Extraordinary Assembly, appeared very conciliatory and wanted to keep the door fully open to achieve a total agreement for the withdrawal of the liability action: “We have taken the first step. The Club had to do so. We want to close cases, which is why all parties must withdraw the appeal, as the Club, Zurich and 11 Directors have done. We are open to talking to the six directors who have not yet done so, but if we talk we must bear in mind the 11 directors who have signed...It would be good for the Court to dictate with jurisprudence and makes it clear how far the law should be applied, but we have made it very clear and have said for some time that Barça has no intention to execute any sentence or go after the assets of any Director”.
The Neymar case
The court cases over Barça and Neymar were also one of the recurring topics of the press conference. Bartomeu has insisted that the 'Neymar 1 case' has been closed with the confirmed agreement by which the Club recognises fiscal errors that have resulted in a fine of €5.5m that has an impact on the final cost of the transfer of the player. The president has confirmed that the final figure of this transfer is €24.6m: "The €17.1m that was paid to Santos, once we recognised that the €40m is the player's salary; plus the €5.5m fine and the €2m that we paid to Santos for the player being a Ballon d’Or finalist".
Regarding the 'Neymar 2 Case' stemming from a lawsuit brought by the Brazilian company DIS, Bartomeu believes that "the case is dismantled with the arguments recognized in the ‘Neymar 1 case’ and we will defend ourselves because Barça has done nothing wrong. We will not reach any pact because we cannot agree on something different from what we have agreed in the first case, that €40m is the player's salary. That is why we have accepted a penalty and a fine."
Agreement with UEFA for ‘Estelada’ (Catalan independence flags)
The agreement reached by the club with UEFA in the case of the ‘estelada’ (Catalan indepence flags) at the Camp Nou has also been a source of satisfaction on the part of the president. "We are very happy, we said that we were opening a legal path, which was the recourse to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and a diplomatic channel, and the diplomatic channel was very good in order to reach this pact." UEFA agrees to amend the article of its regulation and to recognize the freedom of expression and we commit ourselves to withdraw the Court of Arbitration for Sport appeal. All members and fans will be able to go to the Camp Nou exercising their freedom of expression.
Bartomeu was also informed during the press conference that Real Madrid would have its FIFA-imposed ban lifted in order to make transfers in the summer. The president said: “I have no record, but we have the same law firm and I suppose they will explain to us what the differences are between one case and another. I said at the time that we did not agree with FIFA and that the sentence was excessive.”
Another of the subjects broached was the Espai Barça which president Bartomeu described as a “great project for the Club.” He recognised that the conversations with the Barcelona city council to modify the Metropolitan General Plan “were very advanced.”
“I hope at the end of March we can reach an agreement with the city. Barça is very important for the city of Barcelona, we are on the same path,” he continued. With regards to the Ciutat Esportiva at Sant Joan Despí, the president said: “We hope that by July we will have permission to start work on the Miniestadi, and that in 18 months we will be finished. That will allow us to knock down the current Miniestadi and we can move ahead with the New Palau.”
The president regretted the attitude of some members of the ‘Animation Group’ during the derby on Sunday against Espanyol at Camp Nou who unfurled insulting banners before the match. He assured that the Club would take measures as was announced on Monday: “We regret it a lot and we are sorry to those who may have been offended. That is not how we do things, Barça is not that, we do things in a different way. We have taken decisions, just as we did in the Clásico when we ejected three people.”
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