Millennium Post

Barcelona crisis spirals

Five days of 2015 was all it took for crisis mode to envelop Barcelona as two club legends Andoni Zubizarreta and Carles Puyol left their roles with the Catalan giants following a shock 1-0 defeat to David Moyes’s Real Sociedad last weekend.

Yet, worse could still be to come with rumours of dressing room discontent between coach Luis Enrique and star players like Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique, bringing Enrique’s position under serious threat. Amidst such scenario, Zubizarreta’s sacking as the club’s sporting director by president Josep Maria Bartomeu on Monday came as little surprise.

Bartomeu is fighting a losing battle to see out his mandate until 2016 and needed a scapegoat for the one year transfer ban imposed on the club by FIFA for irregularities in the signing of minors, which rules out any further reinforcements to the playing squad until next January.

Anticipating the ban, Zubizarreta was in charge of Barca’s near 160 million euros ($191 million) splurge on seven new players over the summer which has so far proved largely unsuccessful. The most expensive signing in the club’s history, Luis Suarez, has scored just one league goal, whilst 18 million euro defender Thomas Vermaelen is yet to make his debut for the club after being sidelined until April with a hamstring injury.

However, there was widespread shock when former captain Puyol decided to follow Zubizarreta out by resigning. The 36-year-old intimated his departure from the Camp Nou may be fleeting, stating he hoped “to grow both personally and professionally so that, in the future, I can return home.”

Yet, it was another major body blow for a beleaguered board to lose an icon with a lot more recent credit with the fans, having won three Champions League and six La Liga titles in the past decade. Indeed in the brief period between Zubizarreta’s sacking and Puyol’s resignation, the latter was being touted as the ideal man to step into the role of sporting director with a year to properly learn the ropes before having to dive into the transfer market. Instead, reports in Spain on Tuesday suggest Fiorentina’s sporting director Eduardo Macia will be approached for the role.

The boardroom unease has spread onto the pitch as Barca failed to capitalise on Real Madrid’s first defeat in 23 games on Sunday away to Valencia as just hours later they suffered a third league defeat of the season with Enrique having left nearly 300 million euros of talent on the bench. Messi was among those left on the sidelines after only returning to Spain from his Christmas break in Argentina 48 hours before the match.

The four-time World Player of the Year then missed an open training session in front of the club’s fans on Monday due to a reported stomach bug. However, the rumour mill churned into overdrive when the Argentine followed Chelsea’s official account and two of their players Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois on the social networking site Instagram later in the day.

Selling Messi, particularly in the midst of a transfer ban, is unthinkable even for a Barca board on the brink.On the contrary, getting he, Neymar and Suarez playing well together on a consistent basis appears to be the Catalans only hope of claiming some silverware come the end of the season.

Talking to mediapersons couple of days back, Enrique said, “At the moment it just seems to be negative vibes, nothing positive. I don’t think I should be asked to confirm any or deny any of these rumours. It would stir up more problems than it would solve. Things are going to happen during the season and it is up to us to sort it out. Things that happen between the team and the players will always be kept that. My job is not to discuss the rumours, it is to be first team manager.”

When probed further on whether Messi remains happy at the club, Enrique again was ambiguous in his response. “I don’t want to comment. We know things change and a month is a long time. Things have changed but it is up to you to speak to parties involved. I am as happy as ever here, happier even,” he said.

Talking about Messi’s alleged Chelsea move, it does seem far more likely that the Argentine striker is using signs of discontent at Camp Nou to get his own way than it does that he would actually show up at Stamford Bridge anytime soon, unless the two sides are drawn together in a later round of the Champions League.

This does threaten long-term woe for the Spanish side, however, which would in turn make their chances of keeping Messi diminish by the month. Messi’s angelic image will take a huge blow, too, if it is widely accepted by fans he went to such lengths to get a manager fired because he had the audacity to make a team decision and drop the club megastar. Indeed, between this recent discontent and the issues surrounding Messi’s tax case, while we shouldn’t expect a stunning January move for one of the greatest ever footballers, it’s equally hard to imagine him retiring at Camp Nou either.

Should Enrique fail to provide the necessary answers when Diego Simeone’s Atletico revisit the scene of their title triumph last season, he may be next to face the brunt of Bartomeu’s blame game.

Barca descending into chaos: Hristo Stoichkov

Lionel Messi’s alleged breakdown of his relationship with Luis Enrique and the defeat to Real Sociedad has left former Barca superstar Hristo Stoichkov feeling the club is on a downward spiral. “It seems to me that Barca are descending into chaos and everything is topsy turvy at the club right now, while added to that the next game is against Atletico Madrid. We don’t want to see Barcelona returning to the days of Louis Van Gaal, when we won the League with just 13,000 people in the stands, but we are heading that way.

We are on the same path that [former president] Joan Gaspar took in spending millions on four or five players who were useless. You’ve got to look after the world’s best player but it appears that because he was allowed an extra two days’ holiday he couldn’t play as it was too much of a risk he’d get injured. Who gave him permission for that? If someone authorises it then it must be on the understanding he comes back and is able to play. All players should be treated equally. If Barca had won that game they would be top of the table and it wouldn’t be such a big thing, but the problem is that they lost and the way in which they lost. Messi will recover and return but Barca’s problems are within the club. Messi should end his career there and that’s all there is to it,” he told Onda Cero radio.

Transfer ban reveals a club in deep crisis
One week after the Spanish team’s appeal against a FIFA-imposed transfer ban was rejected and two days after its sports director was fired, Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu has called for early elections to “relieve tension” at the increasingly troubled club. Folding to immense internal pressure, Bartomeu said he and his board would run for re-election at the end of the season instead of seeing out their mandate until 2016. He pointed to the transfer ban for violating rules regarding youth players as the club’s major issue. “I think this is one of the biggest problems the club has had in its history. Out of proportion,” Bartomeu said, adding that he was planning to write a letter of complaint to FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

While many neutral soccer fans have enjoyed watching Lionel Messi and his teammates win again and again over the years, there are plenty in Barcelona increasingly anxious to return to the days when Pep Guardiola led the team to 14 of a possible 19 titles in a four-year span. That frustration has been aggravated by watching Real Madrid win its 10th European Cup last year and seeing that team set a Spanish record with 22 straight wins to end 2014. The sense of impending doom that has finally boiled over Camp Nou since the firing of Andoni Zubizarreta on Monday had been festering for more than a year, and it came to a head last week when the Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected Barcelona’s appeal against FIFA’s one-year transfer ban.

Catalans eyeing City manager Pellegrini?
According to a report in The Mirror, Barcelona want to take City director of football Txiki Begiristain and chief executive Ferran Soriano back to the Nou Camp to lead the club into a new era. And if Barca are successful in luring them, they may ultimately look to snatch manager Manuel Pellegrini from the Premier League champions. The revelations will add extra spice to the Champions League last 16 clash between City and Barca, with the two sides meeting for the first leg at the Etihad Stadium on February 24. Barca are looking for a new sporting director following the dismissal of Andoni Zubizarreta and assistant Carles Puyol’s decision to quit the club in the wake of his sacking. Fueling the talk is that Joan Laporta is planning to stand for re-election as Barca president this summer and his potential return to the Nou Camp helm could see him seek a reunion with Begiristain.
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