Barcelona coach defends embattled Messi

(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona's president and manager defended Lionel Messi on Saturday from criticism for his erratic play during the team's recent collapse, and made sure to stamp out any talk of the club's all-time leading scorer leaving Camp Nou.

Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said the club would offer to improve Messi's contract so he "will lead the future" of the team, while coach Gerardo Martino diverted the blame for their struggles to his own coaching performance.

In the past two weeks, Barcelona has been eliminated from the Champions League by Atletico Madrid, lost the Copa del Rey final to Real Madrid, and fallen behind in third place in the Spanish league.

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