Barcelona boss Valverde: Woman could coach men's team in future

BARCELONA, Spain -- Ernesto Valverde has said Barcelona could have a female coach in the future as the women's game continues to grow around the world.

Barca have invested heavily in their women's side in recent years. Former World Player of the Year Lieke Martens and England international Toni Duggan are among a number of big signings made since the team went professional in 2015.

The Catalan club launched a campaign on Friday to coincide with International Women's Day, calling for greater gender equality in the game. Valverde said he is fully behind the push for more female involvement in football and expects big advances to continue being made in the coming years.

"The football world is taking important steps forward," the Barca coach said in a news conference on Friday ahead of his side's game against Rayo Vallecano this weekend. "Women are going to keep having more and more of a presence in the game.

"That's unstoppable. The progression of women's football is there to be seen, with the games at [Athletic Bilbao's] San Mames, [Atletico Madrid's] Wanda Metropolitano and [in Barcelona] in the Champions League.

"Steps are also being taken in the men's game, with the presence of referees. Things are going to keep advancing. In time, maybe there will be a female coach of Barca's men's team. I don't know but it's possible."

Valverde was speaking after Lionel Messi returned to the Argentina squad for friendlies against Venezuela and Morocco this month.

Messi, 31, has not played for his country since last summer's round-of-16 exit at the World Cup but Valverde said he has no issues with the extra demands which will be placed on his top scorer.

"We all knew Leo would return to the national team sooner or later," he said. "It doesn't worry me, not at all.

"This season has not been as demanding for him so far compared with others, due to the injury [he had] and not playing for the national team since the summer. For us, it's completely normal that he is back in Argentina's squad."

Messi, La Liga's top scorer with 25 goals, has helped Barca establish a seven-point lead over Atletico Madrid at the top of the table. Last weekend's 1-0 win against Real Madrid, meanwhile, moved them 12 points clear of Santi Solari's side, who they had knocked out of the Copa del Rey just 72 hours later.

Madrid's misery was compounded in midweek when they were beaten 4-1 at home to Ajax and knocked out of the Champions League. Valverde says Barca have been keeping an eye on Madrid's troubles but that they're taking no glee from a situation which could happen to any of Europe's top clubs.

"We're following it from a distance," he said when asked about Madrid's crisis. "And with respect, because we know how football is. Things can change for any team in a week.

"When you see teams dropping out of the Champions League when they were marked as favourites -- strong and powerful teams -- that shows us how difficult it is to win. No one is safe [in football].

"I am certainly not ruling Madrid out of the title race, due to respect and mathematics. It's true we're 12 points ahead of them but there are still 36 points to be played for. They still have a chance."