Messi was obliged to play in friendly

BARCELONA • Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has admitted that Lionel Messi played in a friendly against Mamelodi Sundowns last Wednesday because of a "contractual issue", even though the striker was left out of the previous weekend's loss to Levante.

Levante's shock 5-4 victory ended Barca's hopes of completing the first unbeaten LaLiga season in what was their 37th, and penultimate, match of the campaign.

The result placed added scrutiny on Valverde's decision to rest Messi, who was not even included on the bench at the City of Valencia Stadium, as Barca chased an equaliser in the final 20 minutes.

But the Argentinian did come on as a substitute in South Africa three days later, as Barca took part in a friendly to contribute to celebrations marking 100 years since the birth of Nelson Mandela.

"In South Africa, I played him for 15 minutes because of a contractual issue," Valverde said on Saturday, ahead of yesterday's home league game against Real Sociedad. "But he has helped us a lot and the idea now is to rest him."

With Barcelona's domestic double already confirmed, Messi's next focus is Argentina and the World Cup in Russia.

Yesterday's match marked Andres Iniesta's final game for Barcelona after 22 years. He announced last month that he would leave the club at the end of the season. According to the Japanese media, the 34-year-old will join J-League side Vissel Kobe.

Should the Spaniard complete the deal, he is expected to visit Japan this month and hold a press conference in Tokyo.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE JAPAN NEWS/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2018, with the headline 'Messi was obliged to play in friendly'. Print Edition | Subscribe