No plan for Messi exit – Luis Enrique

Inevitably, the Argentina star was the hot topic at Wednesday’s press conference after admitting he was unsure over his future, but his coach expects him to stay

Barcelona aren’t planning for life without Lionel Messi, according to coach Luis Enrique, who did his best to play down the furore over the Argentine’s future on Wednesday.

In declaring his uncertainty at Monday’s Ballon d’Or ceremony over where he will play his football next season, Messi stole the headlines despite finishing second in the voting behind winner Cristiano Ronaldo.

Speculation has been rife that all is not well between the 27-year-old and Luis Enrique after the forward was left out of the 1-0 defeat to Real Sociedad in La Liga at the start of January.

Further reports claimed the pair had become embroiled in several heated arguments, while suggesting the Barca star and the club’s president Josep Bartomeu had held a meeting during which the current coach’s exit was discussed.

“We shy away from controversy, comments and rumours. We seek the best atmosphere in the dressing room,” the Spaniard said on Wednesday.

“We all expect Messi to be at the club next season and there is no plan for him not to be here. All the fans want him to stay.”

Amid the controversy surrounding the club, summer signing Luis Suarez has shown signs of reproducing his best form with two goals in his last two games.

“He’s always been at a great level, even when people said he was fat,” Luis Enrique added. “He is continually improving and evolving.”

Barcelona are back in action on Thursday night when they face Elche in the second leg of their last-16 Copa del Rey tie, having won the first leg 5-0.

Several fringe players will feature as Luis Enrique rotates his squad with progress all but assured, while Xavi (hamstring) and Neymar (ankle) won’t be risked.