In Depth

Camp Nou in crisis: Barcelona captain Lionel Messi hits back at Eric Abidal

Argentine responds to sporting director’s criticism of players

A storm has erupted at FC Barcelona with captain Lionel Messi hitting out at the club’s sporting director Eric Abidal. 

In an interview with Spanish newspaper Diario Sport, ex-Barca defender Abidal criticised the club’s players for not working hard enough under former head coach Ernesto Valverde.

Frenchman Abidal said: “I watched the games and didn’t look at the result. But I looked at how the games were played, the tactics and the work of the players who didn’t play much. I looked at those details.

“Many players were not satisfied or weren’t working hard and there was also an internal communication issue. The coach and dressing room relationship has always been good, but there are things that I can smell as a former player.

“I told the club what I thought and they had to make a decision.”

Messi’s response 

Valverde was sacked by the Spanish champions in January and he was replaced by Quique Setien.

Abidal’s suggestion that the players were not working hard enough for Valverde has angered Messi, the club’s captain and star player

In a post on Instagram the Argentine hit back at Abidal’s claims and called on the sporting director to “give names”. 

Messi said: “I honestly do not like doing these things, but I think everyone has to be responsible for their tasks and take care of their decisions. 

“The players are responsible for what happens on the pitch and we are also the first to recognise when we’re not doing well.

“Those responsible for the sports management must also assume their responsibilities and, above all, take ownership of the decisions they make.

“Finally, I think that when talking about players, names should be given. Because if not then we are tarred with comments that are said and are not true.”

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Major trust issues at the Camp Nou

Spanish newspaper Marca says there is a “minefield of distrust” within the club and the Catalans are “experiencing their worst crisis for years”.

Marca’s Luis F. Rojo wrote: “Barcelona are now in a situation wherein nobody trusts anyone, and tension is high. [Club president] Josep Maria Bartomeu doesn’t trust Abidal for all that happened this winter, particularly the failure to land Xavi Hernandez or a new forward.

“The dressing room is also surrounded by distrust. Barcelona have big problems, and they don’t look like they’re going away soon.”

AS writer Juan Jiménez says the Barcelona crisis has “boiled over” and he expects there will be consequences after the war of words. 

Jiménez wrote: “Messi’s reaction highlights just how serious the institutional crisis at Barcelona has become - because every declaration made by the Argentinean in public, more so if it is critical, has immediate consequences. This will surely be no exception…”

Could Messi or Abidal leave?

ESPN senior writer Gabriele Marcotti says “make no mistake” Messi’s response is a “direct challenge to the Catalans’ hierarchy”. 

Marcotti reports: “It’s also the kind of move that ends one of three ways: Abidal walks his comments back and issues a grovelling apology to Messi and his teammates, Barcelona get themselves a new sporting director [and possibly a new president at the next election], or Messi leaves the club. 

“While that final one is about as likely as Liverpool not winning the 2019-20 Premier League, it is still, theoretically, a possibility.”

The Guardian’s Sid Lowe adds: “The spectre of losing Messi, so often the man holding Barcelona together in recent years, is a terrifying one for the club.”

Meanwhile, Sky Sports reports that Barca president Bartomeu has called a meeting with Abidal to discuss the sporting director’s future at the club.

Problems on the pitch 

As well as issues off the pitch there has also been problems on it. After 22 matches in La Liga defending champions Barca are currently three points behind leaders Real Madrid. 

Valverde was sacked in mid-January after a number of poor results in the first half of the season. New boss Setien has overseen four victories in his first five matches - two in La Liga and two in the Copa del Rey - but his team were beaten 2-0 by Valencia in a league clash on 25 January. 

Barca have also been hit by injuries. French forward Ousmane Dembélé is out for the rest of the season with a ruptured tendon in his thigh. Striker Luis Suárez is also set for a long spell on the sidelines after having a knee operation. 

Messi and his team-mates will hope to ease the club’s issues by performing on the pitch.

On Thursday night Barcelona travel to Athletic Bilbao in the quarter-final of the Copa del Rey (8pm GMT) and on Sunday they are away at Real Betis in La Liga (8pm GMT). 

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