Koeman said it was a blow to lose Messi but stressed the team can improve in other areas without him, calling on new signing Memphis Depay, who scored a hat trick for the Netherlands on Tuesday, to mark a new era at Camp Nou.
The Dutchman, speaking to the Catalan newspapers Diario Sport and Mundo Deportivo, also confirmed talks have taken place over a contract extension, with his deal expiring in 2022.
“There are always things to improve but I’ll tell you one thing: if we have everyone available, we can do big things,” Koeman said of Barca’s chances this season following the closing of the transfer window.
“We have a great team. We still have to be realistic, it will be difficult, but I am optimistic and ambitious.”
Koeman said De Jong adds a “different profile” in attack but it is Memphis, who arrived on a free from Lyon, who is generating the most excitement at Camp Nou.
The Netherlands international has scored twice in his first three games for Barca, who have seven points from nine in LaLiga and, despite afterwards labelling his performance “sloppy,” netted three in his country’s 6-1 win over Turkey this week.
“Memphis can mark an era at Barca,” Koeman said. “He has something that is essential to be a success here: personality and character. There’s something different about him and he’s really motivated by the challenge of being here.”
President Joan Laporta revealed earlier this week that Memphis No. 9 shirts are now the biggest sellers at the club following Messi’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain in August.
Given time to assimilate the loss of the six-time World Player of the Year, Koeman is now focusing on the areas where Barca are a better side without him than what they lose by his absence.
“It was a huge blow,” the coach said. “We had planned for the season with him. We lose so much and it took a few days to get things in order, but we must turn the page and build the team.
“Losing Messi doesn’t oblige us to play different tactically but there are things without the ball where the team can improve. We won’t have the individual quality of Leo, but in pressing and structuring the team, the team is better now.”
With Messi, Barca’s wage bill was 110% of the club’s revenue, but following his exit, in addition to many more this summer, that is now down to 80%, closer to the 70% demanded by LaLiga’s spending limits, although gross debt still stands at €1.35 billion.
Koeman, who was appointed Barca boss in 2020, also revealed the club met with his agent two weeks ago and proposed a one-year contract extension, although further talks have not yet taken pace.
“Of course I want to renew,” he added. “I would love to be Barca coach for many years, despite the complications that exist at the club at the moment. But thanks to our decisions, Barca have young players with huge futures and I hope that, in the next three, four, five years, I can continue being their manager.”
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