Koke: I rejected Barca to keep playing in Atletico Madrid's 'best moment'

Spain midfielder Koke has admitted he turned down interest from Barcelona last summer, saying he could not leave his boyhood club Atletico Madrid at the best moment in its history.

After playing a key role last season as Atletico reached the Champions League final and won a first La Liga title in 18 years, Koke, 22, was among the most sought-after players in Europe during the most recent transfer window.

Giant clubs including Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Bayern Munich were all mentioned in persistent speculation. However the strongest rumours featured potential interest from Barcelona, with the Catalan club reportedly willing to pay his 60 million euro release clause as they saw the youngster as the ideal long-term replacement for ageing playmaker Xavi Hernandez.

That led to Atletico offering the local lad an improved contract, tying him to the Estadio Vicente Calderon until 2019, and reportedly making him the best paid player at the club.

Speaking from the Spain camp, where he has also established himself as a key member of the team, Koke acknowledged to El Primer Toque that he had other opportunities last summer, but said he was happy with the decision taken to stay where he was.

"You must be thankful for the interest from Barcelona and other teams, but I am happy because I wanted to stay here," Koke said.

"I have been here [Atletico] all my life and it was not the moment to leave -- we are winning everything, the club is growing and we are improving as players. Why would I want to leave at the best moment for Atletico Madrid?"

The Los Colchoneros player was also asked to weigh in on a debate which continues to rage over whether Barcelona's Lionel Messi or Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo is the better player.

"It is difficult, the two are great players," Koke said. "Cristiano is an athlete, Messi is God, you see him on the pitch, and it is spectacular. It is very difficult to score goals, I would always want [Ronaldo] in my team, but I believe I will stick with Messi."