Barcelona spokesman Josep Vives has suggested the club will only sanction the departure of Javier Mascherano during the January transfer window if they are able to sign a better player to replace him in Ernesto Valverde's back-line.
Vives also aimed a dig at Cristiano Ronaldo, insisting Lionel Messi is the best player in history despite the Real Madrid star last week equalling the Argentine's record of five Ballon d'Ors.
Mascherano, 33, suggested last week that he would like to leave Barcelona during the upcoming January transfer window having seen his playing time limited during the opening half of the season.
It has been said that an unnamed club from the Chinese Super League are ready to pay around €5m to secure his services once the transfer window reopens in the New Year.
Last week, Barcelona president Jose Maria Bartomeu said the club would like to keep Mascherano until the summer but he admitted they planned to "sit down" with the player to discuss the move.
"I am the one who signed Mascherano in 2010. I took a plane to find him at Liverpool. Our desire is for him to stay but were are a human club [with human values] and we are going to sit down and listen to the player," Bartomeu said last week.
Reports in Spain over the weekend claimed that Barcelona were ready to fulfil Mascherano's wishes and allow the Argentina international to find regular first-team chances somewhere else ahead of next summer's World Cup.
However, Vives has said that Mascherano might be forced to stay until the summer if Barcelona don't find a proper replacement.
"We respect the player. He has earned it during more than seven years at the club, as the manager previously said, the club shouldn't become weaker from the January transfer window. We should [end the transfer window] stronger," Vives said during a press conference, as quoted by Mundo Deportivo.
"The general interest of the club is above the individual wishes of any player. In any case, as the president said, we listen to the player to understand [his intentions] but after the January window we cannot be weaker because the final stretch of the season will be complicated and exciting."
Barcelona also expect to sign a midfielder ahead of the second half of the season but asked how much the club plan to spend in the winter market, Vives added: "We will try to have the best team to face the demanding final part of the season. Saying how much [we have to spend in January] will be harmful."
Meanwhile, Vives also sent a message to Ronaldo after last week the Real Madrid ace declared himself to be the greatest player of all-time.
The Portugal international won his fifth Ballon d'Or last week following a season in which he led Real Madrid to the Champions League and La Liga titles.
But asked about the quotes of the Real Madrid star, Vives added: "Respect to the Ballon d'Or and to Cristiano Ronaldo. We have always considered him a great player and a great competitor. But here at the Camp Nou, we can see the best player in history every 15 days, which is Messi."