Barcelona are in meltdown. Not only have they lost top spot in LaLiga to rivals Real Madrid having sacked Ernesto Valverde but new boss Quique Setien must deal with the fallout as his star man and Director of Football clash.
Lionel Messi did not take kindly to Eric Abidal speaking publicly about the club’s troubles this season and was quick to call him out. In an interview with Catalan newspaper Sport on Tuesday, the Frenchman claimed: “Lots of players were not satisfied [with Valverde] and nor did they work a lot.
“There was also an issue of internal communication. The relationship manager-dressing room has always been good but there are things, as a former player, I can smell. I told the club what I thought and that [I thought] a decision had to be made.”
Messi snapped back via Instagram: “I honestly don't like doing these things but I think everyone has to be responsible for their tasks and take care of their decisions. The players [have to be responsible for] what happens on the pitch and we are the first to recognize it when we did not do things well.
"Those responsible off the pitch must also assume their responsibilities and above all take responsibility for their decisions. I think when he [Abidal] talks about players, he has to give names because if not he is tarnishing everyone and fueling speculation that is not true."
All is not well at Camp Nou.
“There wasn't much time between the interview coming out and Messi reacting to it, he was on it like a flash,” Football journalist Rik Sharma, who is based in Spain covering Barcelona, told The Sportsman. “In that brief period, it seemed interesting and not altogether surprising, because for a while it's been known Valverde wasn't pushing the players to work hard.”
Messi is not known for making statements, he much prefers to do his talking on the pitch and so it has come as a major shock in Catalonia. “He even acknowledged that in his post in the first line,” Sharma explains of the Barca talisman’s reserved approach.
“It was a surprise that he hit out publicly at Abidal, a former club legend and his former team-mate, but not that he was upset. There's been something brewing with Messi for a little while, with Barcelona in general. It's not a well-run club."
Though Messi and Abidal have not clashed before, it seems the number 10's frustration reached boiling point as he took to social media. “There hadn't been anything notable in particular (in the past) but Messi might not have been happy with the club's failed pursuit of Neymar. He was heavily pushing for the Brazilian's return and may think Abidal and Co didn't do enough to get him back from Paris.”
While Messi has obviously looked to pour cold water on the flames of any potential crisis, many fans will accept and even agree with the gist of Abidal’s recent comments.
“Abidal himself didn't mean to say it in that exact way if you watch the interview, he appears to immediately realise he hasn't expressed himself in the right way,” says Sharma, who works for Sport and Reuters among others.
“I don't think he was wrong to say it though, just naive. What he said was true but it should have been left unspoken instead of adding fuel to the flames. Messi felt under attack already based on some reports so Abidal appearing to give credence to them was the final straw for him.”
Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu is reportedly set to hold talks with Abidal regarding the interview and, as Sharma explains, Messi, the club’s prized asset, will always be right.
“They have sacked staff for less - see Pere Gratacos who was dismissed for daring to suggest Messi wouldn't be as good without Neymar, Iniesta and co. It wouldn't be a shock if Abidal got the axe or walked away himself, but to save face he might just be forced into an apology or clarifying his comments."
In the past, Barca have bounced back from such turmoil. Now though, it seems it could be more difficult. "We saw in 2015 when the club were plunged into crisis that it helped to galvanise the squad and they went on to win the treble. So there's a chance it could catalyse something like that, but that was a better squad.” Sharma admits.
“This [squad] is threadbare, with not even enough players fit for the bench. That side had Neymar and Suárez, who clicked into form just after it all exploded when David Moyes's Real Sociedad beat Barca in January.”
We assume this one isn’t going to go away any time soon.