Barcelona in crisis: Messi - Abidal row highlights growing fractures at Camp Nou

On Tuesday the Blaugrana had a triple-whammy of bad news, the most serious of which came when their best-ever player called out the sporting director

Posted Thursday, February 06, 2020 by

Barcelona in crisis: Messi - Abidal row highlights growing fractures at Camp Nou

Quique Setien found it hard to believe he was walking in to a club sitting top of La Liga. He is beginning to see why.

“I wake up every day and say ‘Jesus Christ!’,” Setien joked happily, shortly after joining. He says it with a different inflection now.

Other clubs have ‘banter eras’, where fans compile the team’s gaffes over a decade or so into a humorous Twitter thread. On Tuesday, Barcelona crammed disaster after disaster into one day.

The entrante - starter - was Ousmane Dembele’s injury. What on Monday looked like a minor overload on his route to recovery, 24 hours later was revealed to be a “complete hamstring tear”.

It will keep the France winger out for the season, potentially ending his Barcelona career entirely, a story of wasted potential and broken dreams. But the situation got worse with the ‘plato fuerte’ - main dish.

Lionel Messi, Barcelona’s captain, talisman and best-ever player, openly lashed out at sporting director Eric Abidal, after his interview in Diario Sport where he tried to hand off the blame for Ernesto Valverde’s sacking.

Abidal implied Valverde was axed in part because players were unhappy under the coach, and they were not putting a shift in with him at the helm. “Many players weren’t satisfied or working hard and there was also an internal communication problem,” said Abidal.

The point of bringing club legend Abidal into this role in June 2018 was to help increase the links between the board and the team. He was a player the squad’s heavyweights played with during his era as a defender, he is young and he gets it. That was the idea anyway.

Abidal also said in the interview that the board were negotiating an extension to Messi’s contract and that the club’s intention was to “make him happier”. He started off in the worst possible way.

Shortly after the interview was released, Messi took to Instagram to hit back. The social media site is his weapon of choice; he followed Chelsea during the 2015 crisis that nearly saw Luis Enrique sacked.

“Sincerely, I don’t like to do these things but I think that people have to be responsible for their jobs and own their decisions,” Messi wrote, along with a picture of Abidal’s quote about the players not working hard.

It’s true, Messi often does not pronounce publicly, and you get the feeling this is something he had been wanting to come out and say for some time. With his contract expiring in June 2021 but with a break clause in it which allows him to leave for free in the summer, the situation is a “powder keg”, as Marca wrote on their front page on Wednesday morning.

“The players (are responsible) for what happens on the pitch and we are the first to admit when we haven’t been good. The heads of the sports department have to take their responsibilities too and above all own the decisions they make,” continued Messi.

“Finally I think that when you talk about players, you have to give names because if not, it makes everyone dirty and gives air to things that are said which are not true.”

Tensions are riding high at Barcelona. There was a scrap between two players in training last week. The team have stopped making a huddle before games, something they did under Valverde and Luis Enrique, but this is not a Setien decision, just something that they do not feel like doing anymore, highlighting fracture lines.

Some players felt that training was indeed too slack under Valverde and that the team needed to work a lot harder. Others were completely comfortable.

The postre - dessert - was a late story breaking about Samuel Umtiti needing to appear in court on Thursday, accused of destroying a house to the tune of  €183,000 worth of damage. There is a risk he will miss Barcelona’s Copa del Rey clash at Athletic Club that night. Bad news with Gerard Pique also poised to miss the game with a small injury problem, though both have been named in Setien's squad for the trip to Bilbao.

The shocking thing is that none of this is shocking. Barcelona wear crisis well. They are comfortable in it these days.

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