Lionel Messi’s future in doubt as crisis deepens at Barcelona

Lionel Messi’s future at Barcelona has never looked more uncertain, amid ever-deepening institutional crisis at the Catalan club.

Lionel Messi’s future in doubt as crisis deepens at Barcelona

An apparent fallout between Messi and coach Luis Enrique, the firing of sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, and yesterday’s calling of a presidential election for next summer mean that — even by Barca standards — recent days have been extra dramatic.

The disagreement between Enrique and Messi was evident after the player was benched for Sunday’s 1-0 La Liga defeat at David Moyes’ Real Sociedad, with stories emerging of rows between star and coach before and after the game.

On Monday Messi did not appear at Barca’s traditional open-doors Christmas training session. The club claimed, to widespread scepticism, that gastroenteritis was to blame. The player’s camp released a statement which did not mention any illness, saying cryptically “these setbacks cannot be controlled”.

This appeared to confirm rumours Messi was unhappy with both Luis Enrique’s management style and his tactical nous. It also fitted with a feeling that despite signing a new lucrative long-term contract last May, Messi has looked unsettled for a while. His father and agent Jorge has long complained about being targeted by Spain’s tax authorities. Just last November, the 27-year-old himself hinted he could move clubs next summer. Amid this uncertainty it was noted on Monday Messi had followed Chelsea’s official Instagram account, having already followed that of Manchester City. Other clubs rich enough to meet his €250m buyout clause and hefty [after-tax] salary demands include Real Madrid, Paris Saint Germain and Bayern Munich.

Messi trained as normal yesterday, but neither he nor any teammates spoke to the press. Luis Enrique’s scheduled news conference featured few questions about tonight’s Copa del Rey game against Elche.

“The things which happen inside the dressing room, with the team, always stay inside,” the coach said when asked about his relationship with Messi. “I will not confirm or deny speculation [about any row].”

There seemed however an implicit warning when asked if sensitive but talented players merited some extra attention from their boss.

“Messi is the world’s best player,” he said. “I’ve said that often. But the group is more important than any individual. There are rules of behaviour that everyone should follow.”

Reporters at the Camp Nou had little time to digest the quotes, as president Bartomeu also had a press conference yesterday. This was called when Zubizarreta was fired on Monday, just 24 hours after saying on TV Bartomeu was ultimately responsible for the club’s Fifa-imposed transfer ban. Hours later defender Carles Puyol resigned from his backroom role in sympathy.

The latest departures mean in less than a year, Barca has lost its president, head coach, club captain, sporting director, academy director and head of security. June’s elections look set to bring further comings and goings.

Bartomeu said he had spoken with both Luis Enrique and Messi and was confident any issues would be quickly overcome. But he refused to emphatically confirm that the player could never be sold.

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