“You must respect everything he did. What happened was due to bad intentions, to cause harm,” said Koeman.

Messi did a lot for the club

Ronald Koeman has defended Lionel Messi after his earnings at Barcelona were fully disclosed by journalists. The Blaugrana captain opened the scoring against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday night with a fantastic free-kick past Unai Simon. “We’ve known for a long time that he’s the best in the world,” Koeman said when asked about Messi at full-time. “Leo did a lot for the club. He is decisive during the games. He was not more motivated today due to the newspaper report. You must respect everything he did. What happened was due to bad intentions, to cause harm. We must be united and focused. The stuff that is published has to be sidelined, but it’s tough. He is a great player, and he gives us creativity in attack. Without Leo, you cannot aspire too much.”

A win over Athletic Club puts Barcelona into second place in LaLiga, ten points behind leaders Atletico Madrid. “The team is improving,” added Koeman. “There is concentration, mentality… I’m not saying that we haven’t had that before, but we are growing in confidence. We had the ball in the first half, and we could have scored more goals. The reaction and mentality were good after their equaliser. It’s important to be second. We want to be as high as possible. The gap with the leaders is big, but we have to keep going.”