Ronald Koeman believes Barcelona have a strong enough squad to compete for major honours as long as others step up to fill the void left by Lionel Messi.
Barca are heading into a new season without Messi in their ranks for the first time since 2003-04 following the superstar forward’s shock switch to Paris Saint-Germain this week.
Messi scored 672 goals and assisted 265 more for the Catalan giants across 778 appearances, helping the club to 35 trophies across his 17 years in the first team.
The six-time Ballon d’Or winner directly contributed to 39 goals in LaLiga last season – scoring 30 and setting up a further nine.
Antoine Griezmann was the only other player to reach double figures for goal involvements (20), with Ousmane Dembele next on the list with nine.
Ansu Fati and Philippe Coutinho had a combined four goals and assists each – the same number as Martin Braithwaite – in what was an injury hit campaign for the pair.
Each of those players remain at Camp Nou, while Memphis Depay and Sergio Aguero have been signed as a free agents, though the latter has been ruled out for 10 weeks with a calf injury and neither has yet been officially registered as Barca continue to struggle financially.
And with Fati and Coutinho closing in on returns to action, Koeman has underlined the strength of his squad even without Messi around.
“Of course we will have more difficulties to score goals,” he told ESPN. “Messi scored 30 goals last season.
“Other players need to bring more and take the next step and it’s more about the team now than individual players.
“It’s not always one player, you have to do it together. Hopefully, we get players back from injury like Fati and Coutinho and then we still have a strong squad.
“We will work harder, we will do more to achieve what people expect from us. We are still in the transition. We have to understand that the start of this season is difficult.
“We still have COVID, for all the clubs, but still we have players with injuries so we cannot put all the players for playing because we are still missing good players.
“We had a good pre-season, we have young players in, but if we get all the players back from injury the squad is still a strong one.”
Barcelona finished third in LaLiga last season – their lowest finish in 13 years – and exited the Champions League to PSG at the last-16 stage.
The Catalans did manage to win the Copa del Rey in Koeman’s first campaign in charge, though, and the Dutchman is out to win more silverware in 2021-22.
“The goal is always winning trophies, being champions, to have a good run in the Champions League,” Koeman said.
“Clubs like Barcelona don’t have seasons out of winning something. We know that, and the football people will understand it will be more difficult.
“It’s all about working rate and the team and we can make a step forward.”
The shock exit of Messi will undoubtedly take time for Barca to fully get over, but Koeman reiterated the importance of moving on as quickly as possible.
“We have to understand that there is always an end for a player,” the Dutchman added. “You have to close the book because now we have to focus on this new season.
“We have new players in and we have to move forward, and we have time for that. We have young players in the squad this season, and it’s also for the future.
“We are working on the future of this club, and it’s really important to have our focus on this and not focus on what happened in the last few days.”
Messi looked set to sign a new contract with Barca, but the cash-strapped club were unable to fulfil the agreement in place with their greatest ever player.
“I knew there was a difficult situation between the club and Leo Messi and the league to have the possibilities to keep Messi in the club,” Koeman said.
“It takes a long time, but I was surprised by the day and the moment I heard that he was finished playing for Barcelona. I knew the financial situation of the club made it difficult.
“I think it was difficult because we are not just talking about any player, we are talking about Leo Messi, the best player in the world through a lot of seasons.
“We were all disappointed that he will not play for us this season. But okay, you have to change fast because you don’t stay in the disappointment with the new season starting.
“You have to understand it was for a few days a difficult situation. Messi meant so much for this club.”