Soccer

Barca president Laporta says it is time for Ronaldinho to hit the road

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) FC Barcelona president Joan Laporta believes it’s time for Ronaldinho to find a new club.

Laporta said the two-time FIFA player of the year and striker Samuel Eto’o could leave Nou Camp as new coach Pep Guardiola looks to bring stability back to Barcelona next season.

“We’ve told Ronaldinho that he needs new challenges,” Laporta said. “When you finish an era, it’s normal that the leading figures should leave.

“Last year, we thought that it might be the year to sell him, but given his enthusiasm and the appreciation that a club like Barcelona needs to have, we decided to let him stay on. Things haven’t turned out the way he wanted them to.”

Ronaldinho played only 17 league games for the Catalans this season after rarely missing a match to injury following his arrival from Paris Saint-Germain in 2003. Questions over his attitude and social habits took its toll over the course of the season.

“(We) thought that (Ronaldinho) deserved another chance,” Laporta said. “He was excited about becoming the world’s best player again. We thought he deserved it.”

Eto’o has been unhappy after enduring criticism to close the season. The Cameroon striker has talked of playing in England or Italy.

“He has also been one of the most emblematic players of this cycle and if he has to go then he deserves to do so with his head held high, too, and with honor,” Laporta said.

Barcelona finished third in the Spanish League, 18 points adrift of rival and champion Real Madrid.

Coach Frank Rijkaard, who guided the Catalans to consecutive league titles and the 2006 Champions League, was let go after a second straight season without a trophy, while Portugal midfielder Deco has been told to seek another club.

Sports director Txiki Begiristain said Monday that negotiations with Manchester United over the transfer of Gerard Pique were “well advanced.” The defender, a former Barcelona youth player, is expected to join the Catalans shortly after Wednesday’s Champions League final against Chelsea.

Begiristain indicated that Brazilian defender Sylvinho would be the sole player out of contract to return next season.

France defender Liliam Thuram, Brazilian midfielder Edmilson, striker Santi Ezquerro and backup goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto are those who are out of a contract after this season.

Laporta, who has been a focal point for fans’ criticism over the team’s final matches, fielded some blame for the players’ lack of discipline. And for hanging onto the belief that Rijkaard could transform the team’s fortunes following an unbeaten run to start 2008.

“We decided to stick with Frank and not fire him, and I have to take responsibility for that,” Laporta said. “Rijkaard didn’t leave last summer because we had faith in his professional ability. He wanted to continue and we thought that that was the best thing to do.”

Laporta advised the Dutchman in February that Guardiola would be his replacement should he leave. Laporta believes the former Barcelona player is well-suited to see the Catalans through the challenges ahead.

“In Pep, we saw a person with humility, a man of conviction and with a style of play that we share,” he said.

Barcelona is unlikely to spend big as it did last offseason, when it splashed around $109 million on France internationals Thierry Henry and Eric Abidal, Cote d’Ivoire midfielder Yaya Toure and Argentina defender Gabriel Milito.

“We’re looking for balance, not names. We’re looking for players who will give their all,” Laporta said.