Lionel Messi says Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar was 'desperate' to complete a sensational return to Barcelona this summer and that he would have 'loved' to have the Brazilian back.
Neymar, 27, left Barcelona for the French capital in a world-record £200m deal in 2017 and went AWOL in the summer in order to force through a return to the Catalan capital.
He previously spent four years at Barca, scoring 105 and assisting 76 goals in 186 appearances and formed a deadly partnership with Luis Suarez and Messi, but a summer transfer failed to materialise this time around.
"Honestly, yes. I would have loved to have Neymar back," Messi told Spanish publication Sport.
"I understand those people who are against his return and it’s understandable for what happened with ‘Ney’ and the way that he left. But thinking about it on a sporting level, I personally think Neymar is one of the best players in the world and having him in our squad would increase our chances of achieving our objectives.
"I don’t know what happened with the board. I know that I spoke with Ney and he told me how things were going. He was desperate to come back.
"I don’t know if the club really tried or not. What I do know, Neymar was hoping it would happen. I also understand it’s very difficult to negotiate with PSG after all their previous back and forth issues with Barcelona. And it’s difficult because Neymar is one of the best around.
"Negotiations are never easy. I can’t offer an opinion because I don’t know everything. I know what was published and what they said."
After going down to the wire in the European transfer window, and Neymar initially offering to contribute £17.7m to push through a deal, talks broke down and the player agreed to stay put and honour his contract at the Parc des Princes.
"I haven’t spoken to him since the transfer story ended," Messi continued.
"I got injured and he began to train again. What I do know is he was desperate to leave and come to Barcelona. I would have liked for him to return but I think we have a spectacular squad and we can achieve everything without him. So no, I’m not disappointed. Only I would have liked to play alongside him again, that's all."
It has been rumoured recently that Messi could be allowed to leave Barcelona for free next summer due to a clause in his contract, despite it running until 2021.
But Barca are confident of keeping him and Messi says he has no intentions of leaving his 'home' any time soon.
The Argentinian continued: "I can’t confirm anything because there are confidentiality agreements in our contracts.
"What I can say is that I want to be at Barcelona as long as possible. I’ve said throughout my career that this is my home. But I also don’t want to have a long-term contract and only be here because of it.
"I want to be here because physically I’m fine, to play and be an important member of the squad. And as I said before, I need see there’s a winning team because I want to keep winning things at this club. For me, money or a clause don’t mean anything.
"Other things motivate me and the most important thing is having a winning team.
"My idea is to continue here for as long as I can perform well and my body allows me to do that. Afterwards, as I said before, my contract isn’t something that worries me or even something I manage myself. My father handles that with the president or whoever he needs to talk to. I only express my thoughts."
Pressure is reportedly growing on Barca boss Ernesto Valverde due to his style of play and for failing to deliver in Europe in his two seasons in charge.
The Spaniard has won the LaLiga title in successive seasons as well as one Copa del Rey trophy, but throwing away a 3-0 lead against Liverpool in the Champions League continues to hang over him.
Despite this, Messi has thrown his support behind the 55-year-old.
He added: "When these things happen, everyone thinks the worst because we didn’t complete our objectives. Something similar happened in the previous year too although I believe it was worse on this occasion. As I said in the moment, we (the players) are to blame.
"The coaching staff had nothing to do with the performance we put in. Until that moment we had a great season, dominating the league from the first moment, making the final of the Copa del Rey. It was more an issue with us than with the coaching team."
After a 10/1, 3/1 and 6/5 winner on England in the international break, George Pitts previews Saturday's Premier League action.
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