TOKYO, July 13, (Agencies): Barcelona star Lionel Messi on Thursday expressed hope for improved fortunes under new coach Ernesto Valverde after a disappointing year for the Catalan club.
“Whenever I start a new season there is a very clear-cut goal, which is that Barcelona would do its best,” said the Argentine wizard, who recently agreed a three-year contract extension at Barca.
“Personally I am very happy and looking forward to starting the new season,” added the newly wed Messi as Barcelona celebrated a new sponsorship deal with Japanese e-commerce firm Rakuten at its Tokyo headquarters.
“It’s a new beginning. Everything will be new (under Valverde). We are hearing a lot about his very good reputation so we will just do our best.”
While Messi avoided making bold statements for the new campaign after fierce rivals Real Madrid stormed to the La Liga and European Champions League titles last season, Barca team mate Arda Turan said:
“It’s important that we are going to win all the titles this year — we can do it.”
They were joined by Neymar and Gerard Pique for the media event with Rakuten founder and chief executive officer Hiroshi Mikitani.
“The objective is always to win, whether or not I score goals,” said Neymar.
“We are a team,” added the Brazilian. “If I can score goals obviously I’ll be happy, but with Pique and Messi, and the other players score goals that’s also good. As long as the team wins I’m happy.”
Valverde replaces Luis Enrique, who stepped down at the end of a successful three-year spell in charge of Barca.
Rakuten’s four-year sponsorship deal, worth 55 million euros ($63 million) a year, will last through June 2021, with the option of a one-year extension.
The e-commerce giant replaced Qatar Airways, Barcelona’s shirt sponsor since 2013.
Rakuten signed the deal as it seeks to expand overseas.
The company already owns J-League side Vissel Kobe and professional baseball team Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Meanwhile, FIFA says it has lifted a suspension on the Sudan Football Association, allowing the country to play in an African Nations Championship qualifier in Burundi this weekend.
FIFA says the Sudanese Ministry of Justice rescinded an order removing leaders of the football association from office following intervention by Sudan Prime Minister Bakri Hassan Salih.
The world body says SFA President Mutasim Gaafar Sir Elkhatim and his board of directors have been reinstated, leading to the lifting of the ban.
FIFA doesn’t allow governments to interfere in football matters and announced Sudan’s suspension on Friday, leading to three of its club teams being disqualified from African competitions.
Sudan was due to play Burundi on Saturday but has asked the Confederation of African Football if the game can be moved to Sunday.