In Depth

Barcelona crisis: Messi Chelsea link is tip of the iceberg

Squad unrest, backroom sackings, shock defeats and a transfer ban – are Barca really 'crumbling'?

News that Barcelona star Lionel Messi has begun following Chelsea on social media site Instagram has prompted talk of a transfer to London in some quarters and howls of derision in others.

But whatever was behind Messi's decision to take a sudden interest in the Blues on the internet there is little doubt that all is not well at the Camp Nou this season amid reports of squad unrest, high-profile departures and defeat to David Moyes's Real Sociedad at the weekend.

Messi was left out of the team for the game on Sunday, along with Neymar, although both came on as substitutes. The Argentine was then absent from training on Monday with a stomach problem.

Those events may seem relatively trivial but Barcelona's problems escalated in the afternoon when it was announced that the club had fired sporting director Adoni Zubizarreta. Soon afterwards his assistant, club icon Carles Puyol, quit.

It was then that it emerged Messi had begun following Chelsea, along with Blues players Thibaut Courtois and Luis Felipe.

"Obviously it's not a sign of anything concrete," says Spanish paper Sport. "Leo Messi follows 97 people on Instagram – Argentina, Adidas, Beyonce, among others, as well as Manchester City. But amid the rest of the news from Barcelona on Monday, is it any surprise that this has raised suspicions?"

The latest developments also come amid claims that new manager Luis Enrique has fallen out with some of his star players, including Messi.

The Argentine "is believed to have taken offence at Enrique giving a decision against his team in five-a-side training match leading to a stand-off between the two men," reports Eurosport, which calls their spat "ridiculous".

However, Enrique has "a reputation for falling out with star players", reports the Daily Mail, and says Messi is not the only player to have crossed swords withe the coach since he arrived in the summer. But it adds that Enrique "should probably bear in mind that when Messi is unhappy at Barcelona it tends to be the people he is unhappy with that move on".

Enrique's position is not under immediate threat, claims the Daily Telegraph, but it says the rumours about Messi "add to the general air of turbulence at Barca".

The paper hints at civil war at the club by suggesting that Zubizarreta was fired after trying to blame new president Josep Maria Bartomeu for a transfer ban that means the club cannot sign any players during 2015.

The politics may be complex but the problems are clear. "Barca are crumbling," declares Spanish paper Marca. Recent successes have provided a "smokescreen", but Bartomeu has inherited a "mess" that is "simply too big, making it impossible to restore order".

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