Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman has defended his decision to play Lionel Messi in Sunday’s Spanish Supercopa final defeat to Athletic Club, in which Messi picked up the first red card of his club career.
The Argentine had been a doubt for the game after missing the semi-final with a hamstring injury, but he was surprisingly named in the starting lineup and played the entire 120 minutes, putting in a performance which looked like that of a player who wasn’t fully fit.
Messi was well off the pace and allowed his frustrations to boil over in stoppage time, striking Asier Villalibre and being shown the first red card of his club career after VAR intervened, but Koeman insisted that it was the 33-year-old’s decision to play.
“After so many years, he knows when he is fit to play and when he is not,” Koeman said (via Marca). “He has decided to play, nothing more. He was fine.
“I understand what happened. I don’t know how many fouls he has made. The player tries to dribble and cannot. Can I excuse him? I have to see the play first.”
Koeman also declined to give his opinion on the performance of referee Gil Manzano, adding: “I’d better not speak. It would be repeating things and I don’t like it. I’m not going to give an opinion.”
Fortunately for Barcelona, Manzano did not describe Messi’s foul as ‘aggressive’ in his match report, instead stating the Argentine used ‘excessive force’, a charge which brings about a lighter punishment.
It’s expected that Messi will now miss just two matches – the Copa del Rey third round against Cornella and the league meeting with Elche – whereas he could have been sidelined for anywhere up to 12 games if it was deemed as aggressive.
That decision will likely frustrate Villalibre, who claimed after the game that it was clear Messi set out to physically hurt him.
“I put my body in his way to stop him from going forward, he has got angry, he has put his hand in my face and I think it was a clear show of aggression,” the Athletic forward said (via AS).