Lionel Messi believes Inter and AC Milan must return to the Champions League in the near future to help Italian football rediscover its damaged reputation across the continent.
The San Siro giants have lifted the famous trophy on 10 occasions between them - the most recent instance coming in 2010 when Jose Mourinho's Inter completed the treble, having ousted Messi's Barcelona in the semi-finals.
However, both clubs have struggled to keep pace domestically and abroad, Milan last featuring in the Champions League in 2013-14 while Inter's most recent appearance came two years prior.
The failure of the national team to reach next year's World Cup was a hammer blow to the Italian game, and Messi believes the two Milan rivals returning to European football's top table would go some way to repairing the damage.
"Italian football in recent years is no longer the same. And I believe that this has to do not only with the non-qualification to the World Cup," Messi said, in quotes reported by La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"For example, two greats in Serie A, Milan and Inter, are no longer those that were about 10 years ago and no longer play in the Champions League, and this affects all Italian football.
"They are basically trying to get back, especially the two Milanese clubs must return to be competitive at European level."
Messi was speaking after picking up the Golden Shoe award for finishing 2016-17 as Europe's top scorer. Friday's ceremony marked the fourth time the Argentinian has claimed the prize, equalling Cristiano Ronaldo's tally.
The pair have long been held up as two great individual rivals among a team sport and, although Ronaldo suggested recently they could become good friends in the future, Messi is unsure if that can ever be the case for two men who only meet on the field or at prize-giving galas.
"I do not know if we will be. Friendship is something that is built through spending time together and getting to know each other," he told Marca.
"We have no relationship, but mostly because we only see each other in the awards ceremonies and it is the only time we speak. At that moment everything is fine, but then we do not meet again."
24 de marzo 2018
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