Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has hinted he would welcome Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola back to the Camp Nou in the future.
He spoke to the Telegraph’s Jason Burt in a wide-ranging interview and opened up on the former Blaugrana boss: "I knew he wanted to go [to England] as a player. He couldn’t do that, but now he is a manager. So it’s normal that he went to the Premier League, and I hope that one day he will be back here."
On the possibility of Guardiola returning to manage Barca again, he added: "You never know. There are so many people who were at the club, went, came back again. You never know, but right now he is concentrating on City."
Guardiola spent the majority of his playing career at the Camp Nou and managed the club between 2008 and 2012, during which he won three La Liga titles and the UEFA Champions League and Copa del Rey twice apiece.
Football journalist Rafael Hernandez is among many who hold the Spaniard in extremely high regard:
Pep is one of a kind. Two, three, half a dozen trebles later and that wouldn’t change a bit. Truly special.
— Rafael Hernández (@RafaelH117) October 18, 2016
Luis Enrique is currently enjoying a highly successful spell as Barcelona manager—he’s one league and Champions League title behind equalling Guardiola in terms of major trophies won—but it wouldn’t be surprising if Guardiola were to return in the future.
Bartomeu also discussed Lionel Messi and, naturally, believes he is "by far" the world’s best player. The president hopes the Argentinian will stay and believes he is still yet to reach his peak:
I don’t know what will happen in the future but of course we will always try to explain to him that he is at the best club in the world and this is the best place for him to live and he is living the best experience of his life with us.
He is still only 29. And if you see him playing it seems like he is one of our very young players. Leo Messi reinvented himself two years ago and changed the way he played and he is a better player now than he was then, a much better player. So normally players increase and then reduce but he is still growing. So where are the limits? We don’t know.
Messi has netted a staggering 470 goals in 545 appearances for the Blaugrana, with whom he has played his entire senior career. He has already bagged 14 in all competitions this season along with six assists.
Hernandez is a huge admirer of the forward’s immeasurable talents:
The decisive difference between every other club in the world and Barcelona is Lionel Messi.
— Rafael Hernández (@RafaelH117) October 19, 2016
Not only does he boast an incredible goalscoring record, Messi is also a sublime distributor of the ball as noted by Spanish football expert Sergi Dominguez:
Man, it’s been done over 50 times now but still love seeing Messi play a 40+ yard diagonal pass then Neymar controls it with his heel.
— Sergi Domínguez (@FutbolSergi) October 29, 2016
He has less than two years on his current deal with Barca, but Bartomeu confirmed the club will be holding talks with him over a new contract "in the next couple of months."
The president was drawn on La Liga’s ongoing rivalry with the Premier League—perhaps Messi’s most likely destination if he were to ever leave Barcelona, aside from childhood club Newell’s Old Boys—and believes the money in the English top flight is driving their Spanish counterparts to improve:
That’s why La Liga is making a lot of effort as a league. But when we talk about La Liga I am very happy because the best players in the world play here—Messi, number one.
For me, Neymar, number two. Cristiano Ronaldo, number three. [Luis] Suarez, [Gareth] Bale, [Sergio] Busquets, [Andres] Iniesta, [Antoine] Griezmann. So the best players in the world are playing in La Liga. The stars who are players are here and maybe, right now, in the Premier League the stars are the coaches. Not the players.
Indeed, while the Premier League boasts a number of the world’s top players—such as Mesut Ozil, Eden Hazard and David De Gea to name but a few—they are perhaps dwarfed by the array of box office managerial talents from Guardiola and Jose Mourinho to Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger.
For everything the Premier League has to offer, English clubs have struggled to offer a serious challenge in the Champions League in recent seasons.
Barcelona will travel to Guardiola’s Man City on Tuesday having dispatched them 4-0 in their last meeting.
With Barca aiming to top their group ahead of the Sky Blues, Bartomeu insisted "we are going there to win."
At home City should provide more of a challenge to Barca and a much-needed confidence-boosting 4-0 win over West Bromwich Albion at the weekend puts them in slightly better shape heading into the match than last time out.
Nevertheless, the game could well serve as another reminder of just how much work Guardiola and the Premier League have to do to rival Barcelona on the pitch.