Rumours that Barcelona and Argentina soccer star Lionel Messi could be leaving the Catalan club this summer are swirling after a bust-up over social media with sporting director and former teammate Eric Abidal. Messi’s contract would allow him to leave on a free transfer at the end of the current season and reports that such a move could be on the cards are rife, despite the Argentinian spending his whole career with Barcelona.
The conflict started after Eric Abidal, Barcelona’s sporting director, criticised the players’ work rate and attitude during previous manager Ernesto Valverde’s tenure.
“We started working on the coach during my first summer. We looked for information and after, the president decided to renew him. We took it on because it was a club decision, but we already saw the problem wasn’t to do with results but that it was an internal thing. It’s never easy to take on that decision but after the Clasico on December 18th, we started to concrete on his exit.” Abidal told Diario Sport.
“A lot of players were not happy and did not work much and there was also a problem with internal communication.”
“The relationship between the coach and dressing room was always good, but there are things that as an ex-player I can sense. I told the club what I thought and we had to make a decision.”
Eric Abidal, 40, was a central defender who played with Messi at Barcelona for six years between 2007 and 2013, making 125 appearances and winning two Champions League trophies in that time. The Frenchman then went on to play for Monaco before finishing his playing career in Greece with Olympiakos. He has been Barcelona’s sporting director since June 2018.
In the interview, Abidal was also quoted that he thought Messi was happy at the club and that they were currently in negotiations for a new contract.
However, Messi responded angrily on social media to Abidal’s comments, suggesting that the sporting director should be more specific when placing blame on players, rather than tarring them all with the same brush.
“I honestly do not like to do this kind of thing but I think that everyone has to be responsible for their job and take responsibility for their decisions,” Messi said on Instagram.
“Players for what happens on the field, we are also the first to acknowledge when we don’t play well. Those in charge of sporting direction should also face up to their responsibilities and above all take charge of their own decisions.”
“Lastly, I think that when you talk about players, you should give names because otherwise you are tainting everyone’s name and feeding rumours that spread and are not true.”
Reports that Messi may leave the club in the summer have naturally been rife in the aftermath of his public spat with Abidal, but new Barcelona manager Quique Setien was quick to put rumours of Messi’s unrest to bed.
“Of course Messi is still motivated. I have seen him smiling, he seems fine, he loves coming to train, he loves being here, he looks the same as yesterday and the day before,” The 61-year-old said in a press conference.
“Messi has the experience and the capacity to decide about things that he should or should not do. I’m not going to get involved in the life of Messi, or anyone else. I’m nobody’s dad, I have to ensure that my players come here, come here happy and that what we provide on the pitch are good for them to grow so we can continue winning. The other stuff doesn’t bother me at all.”
“The majority of things you have said I’m sure are very important things, but they don’t affect me at all. I will try everything possible to ensure my group are affected as little as possible. We spoke one minute about this, talking about the importance of tomorrow’s game and the obligation we have to completely focus on that, which is what interests us.”
“My interest is football, as for everything else I’m sure there are situations that I’m not able to control so that’s why I don’t waste my time on them. I’m going to talk about what really interests me and the players, football. I will try and make sure everything that happens around the club doesn’t affect us.”
“I know there are always problems in this club and I’m sure it is the same in every club in the world. You can talk, but talk to me about football, please. I want to have training, prepare for the game and focus.”
Perhaps the most likely destination for Messi, should he indeed leave, would be English Premier League champions Manchester City, one of the few clubs able to support his $64.6 million per year contract. This would also mean a reunion with former boss Pep Guardiola, with whom the Argentinian reportedly had a strong relationship with. Another contender would be Italian giants Juventus, which would set up a fascinating partnership with fellow superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.