27 Jul Barca president: Messi in Miami shirt ‘strange’
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“It’s a strange feeling,” Laporta told ESPN of watching Messi play in the United States. “We identify Messi with Barcelona. That’s the way I think most supporters see Messi, because most of his career has been at Barca.
“But we respect his decision and we wish the best for him. We want the best for our players. He came to Barcelona as a kid, 14-years-old, and he spent 20 years with us. I hope he can be very happy in Miami.”
Messi has already been joined in Miami by former Barca teammates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, while Luis Suarez has also been linked, although sources have told ESPN the Uruguay striker will remain at Gremio until at least the end of the year.
Laporta said he understood Messi’s decision to take on a new challenge in the U.S., even if Barca had cleared his possible return with LaLiga financially.
“It was very close,” the Barca chief added. “We had to manage our financial fair play situation so we needed time. At the end, we reached an agreement with LaLiga that authorised us to add him to the squad.
“But Leo was coming from a situation in Paris where he was under a lot of pressure. His father told me that he needed a place where he won’t be under pressure and at Barca that would not be the case because of the meaning of the return of our hero.”
During his 21 years at Barca, Messi became the club’s record appearance holder and top scorer, scoring 672 times in 778 games. He won four Champions Leagues, 11 LaLiga titles and won the Ballon d’Or on seven occasions.
“In Miami, it is different for him, it’s a new league for him, one that is improving and Messi can help with the developing of the league,” added Laporta.
“With Busquets and Jordi Alba as well, maybe Luis Suarez. It will be very attractive for the fans in the United States. So he preferred to go to Miami. We respected it and understood his decision.”
Messi has made a fast start to life in South Florida, scoring the game-winning free kick on his debut against Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup and then adding a brace in a 4-0 win over Atlanta United FC on Tuesday.
“We lost against Arsenal, but it’s preseason and we will get better,” Laporta said. “I hope against Madrid and in our last game in the U.S. we can be better.
“This tournament is fantastic. There are full stadiums, the fans are great and everything is so well organised. Last night we played in front of 70,000 with people coming from abroad to watch us.
“And training is also going great. The facilities in Los Angeles are perfect for us. We just had the problem with the viral infection, but we feel thankful to be here.”