On the face of it, Barcelona football club probably don’t have too much to complain about. Reigning champions of La Liga, the Spanish side currently sit second in the league table, just three points behind leaders Real Madrid.
Barca are also among the favourites to win this season’s Champions League, with the club 13/2 chances to win Europe’s top club competition. Sure, things could be a little better, but – crisis? What crisis? For all the latest football odds, visit our sportsbook.
This crisis. This is Barca; the footballing entity that famously markets itself as “more than a club”. And if at first glance the Spanish giant seems to be in reasonable nick, a closer examination suggests a club lurching dangerously close to disarray.
Lionel Messi’s Instagram spat with Barcelona sporting director Eric Abidal is just the most alarming sign of trouble at the mill. If you missed the story, last week Abidal gave an interview where, amongst other topics, the former player touched upon the recent dismissal of manager Ernesto Valverde.
It was a difficult situation that the Barca bigwigs managed to handle with all the sensitivity of Janice Soprano. Yet with Valverde gone and new manager Quique Setien newly ensconced, this was a chance to move on.
Abidal claimed that Valverde needed to be replaced, since some players were no longer “satisfied” with the manager and “nor were they working particularly hard”.
On paper, that sounds a fairly innocuous statement, but Lionel Messi got the right hump about it, responding to the quote less than an hour and a half after it was published, taking to his Instagram page with the following comment.
“Those responsible for the area of sports management must assume their responsibilities and above all take charge of the decisions they make.
“When talking about players, we should give names because otherwise we are getting everyone dirty and feeding things that are said and are not true.”
Such is Messi’s inextricable link with Barcelona, it seems incredible that the player who has spent his entire career with the Catalan club is now openly criticising the board.
Even more alarmingly, Messi has a clause in his contract which means that even though his agreement ends in 2021, the player can choose to leave at the end of this season if it suits him – with the club getting diddly-squat if he chooses to do one.
There’s much more going on here than a momentary outburst of frustration that can be soon forgotten, too. On the contrary, pressure has been building at Barca. The club haven’t won the Champions League since 2015, going out in painful fashion against Roma and Liverpool in the last two years, when progress looked assured.
And Messi is, inevitably getting older. At 32 years old he’s still brilliant, still probably the best player in the world – but he can’t do it by himself any longer, at least not week in, week out.
Setien’s arrival hasn’t instantly ushered in a new era of positivity on the football pitch either, with Barca losing against Valencia in the league and being dumped out of the Copa del Rey by Athletic Bilbao in recent weeks.
Since Setien’s arrival, he has had to deal with bad news about Luis Suarez, set to be out for most of the rest of the season with a knee injury. Barcelona have failed to bring in a replacement striker – while also losing two players who could have stepped into the role, both Abel Ruiz and Carles Perez being loaned out at the end of January.
And to cap it all, Ousmane Dembele, who hadn’t played a game since November through injury, returned to training earlier this month – and immediately tore a hamstring which means he is likely to miss the rest of the campaign.
Injury woes are nothing new in football, but Barca also seem to be struggling in terms of spirit too. There have been reports of the usually squeaky-clean Messi involved in another incident, this time the Argentine clashing with goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stergen in a training ground incident.
It’s concerning. Barca used to evoke an aura of invincibility, like Tiger Woods at his peak – these days there are flaws, foibles, a sense that this side can be got at.
Every era comes to an end. And assuming they stick around, Messi, Setien, Abidal and co might have to brace themselves for even more trying times in the weeks and months ahead.
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