The official reason given for Lionel Messi’s surprise no-show for Barcelona’s traditional annual open training session on Monday was ‘gastroenteritis’ but not everyone in Spain was convinced.
As Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez had – with unfortunate timing – put it three days earlier, gastroenteritis is often ‘an excuse for when something else is going on’, so no wonder many pundits in Spain believed that Messi was publicly airing his grievance at being left out of the starting line-up for Barcelona’s 1-0 defeat to David Moyes’ Real Sociedad on Sunday.
It is not the first time Messi has responded to being left out of the team by failing to show at training, as he did the day after Pep Guardiola left him out of a match at Real Sociedad in 2011.
But the Argentinian’s absence on Monday had greater repercussions, as 11,000 fans, mostly children, had bought tickets in advance to watch the session, and he subsequently missed the team’s visit to children’s hospitals in Barcelona. An apology quickly appeared on Messi’s Facebook page, but his activity on Instagram later that day attracted far more interest – his decision to follow Chelsea’s official site and the Stamford Bridge club’s players Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois.
Messi follows 99 accounts on Instagram – including Manchester City – but the timing of his latest additions has not gone unnoticed, and has been taken as yet another symptom of the open wound that exists between Barcelona and their most iconic player. The ill feeling between Messi and the club’s board can be charted back as far as June 2013 when he was investigated by the public prosecutor for tax fraud and the club failed to show their support for him in public.
Earlier that same month Barca announced the signing of Neymar following a lengthy and costly transfer saga, which gave the impression that Messi was no longer the most important player at the club.
The previously quiet noises about his discontent at Barca were blown away in December 2013 when Messi, who rarely reveals anything of note in interviews, launched a scathing attack on BarÃ§a’s vice-president of economic affairs Javier Faus, who had previously spoken against offering Messi a new contract six months after his last deal.
Messi responded by calling Faus ‘someone who knows nothing about football.’ Six months later, Messi was given a new contract, but tellingly, his buy-out clause remained at 250million euros. Despite the new deal, Messi continued to drop hints all was not well. Before the World Cup he said: ‘Barcelona is my home, but if they don’t want me or doubt me, I’d have no problem in leaving.’ He caused similar unease at the club last November by telling an Argentinian newspaper: ‘Although I have said I’d like to stay at Barcelona forever, things don’t always turn out how you want them to.’
The only three clubs that would be able to afford Messi are Chelsea, City and Paris Saint-Germain but any move for the four-time Ballon d’Or winner is near impossible before 2016, as a Fifa-imposed transfer ban prevents Barcelona from buying any players to replace him until then. If Messi’s unrest was previously combined to the upper echelons of the club, it has now spread to the training ground. In his first session back on Jan 2 following an extended Christmas break, Messi had an angry exchange with Luis Enrique during a five-a-side game which the coach was officiating, with the Argentinian disagreeing with a decision.
The tension appeared to only be heightened by the defeat to Real Sociedad, with newspaper Mundo Deportivo reporting an angry exchange of words between the coach and Messi, who reportedly also insulted the club’s psychologist JoaquÃn ValdÃ©s.
The Argentinian is far from the only player dissatisfied with the coach, who has been constantly altering the team’s formation and line-ups this season. Although Luis Enrique’s team have set records for their tight defence, they have come up short in the big games, outplayed at Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid in October.
The coach appeared to be vindicated after the 3-1 win over the Parisians in December which saw Barca top their Champions League group, but the same questions plagued him again when he switched systems again for the trip to struggling Getafe and his side drew 0-0 after a weak performance.
Barcelona’s defeat to Real Sociedad was all the more galling as it came just hours after league leaders Real Madrid’s first defeat in 23 matches, missing an opportunity to cut the lead with their greatest rivals to a point. Unlike his predecessor Gerardo Martino, who indulged Messi, Luis Enrique does not have a reputation for compromise.
The former midfielder fell out with Pep Guardiola when playing for Barcelona and in the early stages of his ill-fated tenure as Roma coach, got off on the wrong foot with Francesco Totti, although the pair later settled their differences.
But despite Messi’s ill-feeling with the Barca hierarchy, a battle with the club’s all-time top scorer is not one Luis Enrique is likely to win, and he would be advised to follow the lead of Guardiola, who once remarked that Messi ‘demands special treatment’.
Source: The Telegraph
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