PETE JENSON: Lionel Messi will win his battle with the Barcelona board

PETE JENSON: Barcelona’s board are dead men walking thanks to their war with Lionel Messi… the coronavirus pay cut row follows failed transfers, Neymar’s exit and Eric Abidal’s criticism – Xavi and Carles Puyol will be running the show next to keep their Argentine pal happy

  • Lionel Messi hit out at the Barcelona board this week in regards to a paycut
  • Barca star stated he and his team-mates would take a 70 per cent drop in wages
  • But he also criticised the board for their handling of the issue amid coronavirus
  • It’s the latest battle in a long line of them between Messi and the club’s top brass 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

In these times of boredom let’s play: ‘Who’s the bad guy?’ That’s what Barcelona seemed to have been up to this week with club captain Lionel Messi up against president Josep Bartomeu.

Bartomeu had announced on Thursday that the club was implementing across the board pay-cuts for all employees. The details were not given but it was made clear the first-team footballers were not in favour of the idea. That was not a good look for Messi and company.

How can somebody, who France Football recently listed as football’s top-earner on £116million a year (€131m), begrudge giving up a little cash in this times of global pandemic?

Lionel Messi has been involved in another war of words with the board at Barcelona

Messi, fuming at the insinuation, and in constant touch with his similarly disgruntled team-mates, stayed silent for a while, save for the announcement of a £900,000 (€1million) donation to two hospitals – one in Catalonia and one in Argentina.

On Monday he spoke. Issuing an Instagram statement that resounded like a thunderclap as if the Norse god Thor had pressed ‘send’ himself.

‘It never ceases to amaze us that from within the club there were those who tried to put us under the magnifying glass, adding pressure for us to do what we were always going to do anyway,’ read the message.

In other words: the board had tried to throw the Barca players under a bus and they were not happy about it.

In a strongly worded statement on Instagram, the forward criticised the club’s board over their handling of players taking a pay cut amid the current coronavirus pandemic

Messi issued a strongly worded statement against the Barcelona board in an Instagram post

At the time of Messi’s post, La Liga presidents were meeting virtually in a video conference summit precisely on the subject of how to prepare for the drastic cut in revenue that the coronavirus is likely to provoke.

Various presidents and directors from the 20 top-flight clubs had to take their eyes off of their laptops during the meeting to look at their phones and deal with the cascade of WhatsApp messages all saying more a less the same thing: ‘Wow! Have you seen Messi’s statement?’

The Barcelona board then tried desperately to get their side of the story back at the front of the queue.


Spanish press reacted to the war of words which will see Barca stars take a 70 per cent pay cut

There was a club statement and the two Catalan sports papers published tasters of an interview planned for the following day in which Bartomeu made it clear he knew the players were always on-side.

But it included the damning phrase: ‘Perhaps they [the players] are annoyed by things that people have said, inside and outside the club, without having all the information.’

With that apparent admission that the players were right to be upset, and the players’ gesture to take a further cut to cover the wages of the non-football staff, the dressing room had come out on top. Not for the first time the board looked disorganised at best, and Machiavellian at worse.

Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu and director of football Eric Abidal have both come under fire from Messi in recent times 

It wasn’t long ago that Messi publicly called out sporting director Eric Abidal for suggesting it was the players who got Ernesto Valverde the sack.

The biggest beef the players had with the directors this time was why they were in such a rush to implement the so-called ERTE – a process by which firms can temporarily lay-off or cut the wages of staff.

Across the great Clasico divide Real Madrid were not talking about pay-cuts, so why were Barcelona? Wasn’t it wise to wait to see how the situation developed and make contingency plans according to whether football was set to return with fans, without them, or not at all?

The other top-flight club in Catalonia – Espanyol – had carried out an ERTE but only for playing staff. Wasn’t it below Barcelona to be the club reducing the earnings of its non-playing staff?

Messi is still unhappy about the 2017 sale of Neymar and the club’s inability to replace him

BARCA WAR OF WORDS TIMELINE

March 26: Barca board make plea to players over taking a 70 per cent pay cut amid the coronavirus chaos, but players fail to agree deal.

March 27: Despite no agreement in place, board look to press ahead with the pay cut

March 30: Messi confirms in a statement he and his team-mates will take the 70 per cent hit, but criticises board for their handling of the situation.  

It’s no real secret why Barcelona were one of the first clubs to move. They are at the absolute limit of the spending plans they set out at the start of the season. They budgeted for selling players for around £106m (€120m) and have fallen short of that target. 

They have the estimated £620m (€700m) costs of the redevelopment of the Camp Nou still to consider. These are tricky times but often those trying to steer the ship look out of their depth.

Messi didn’t like the sale of Neymar in 2017. He wasn’t very impressed with the attempt to replace him either, spending over the odds on Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele. Last summer he wanted the club to re-sign Neymar but instead Antoine Greizmann was brought in.

He wants one more winning team built around him before he retires and he has no faith in the current board to deliver that.

Ousmane Dembele (left) and Antoine Griezmann have since arrived but have failed to live up to expectations so far at the Nou Camp

Before football was stopped in its tracks by coronavirus, this season was heading towards a predictable conclusion.

Barcelona were en-route to falling short in the Champions League once more – Messi himself had admitted they did not look up to winning it. At the end of the campaign, with Messi refusing to sign a new deal leaving him with just one year on his contract, the pressure on the board to call elections would have been huge.

In Barcelona’s last two home games supporters have waved white handkerchiefs and called for Bartomeu to resign. His mandate runs to 2021 but the pressure might well have been too great for him to step aside one year before.

Xavi distanced himself with a return to the Nou Camp until figures such as former defender Carles Puyol (left) can offer a presence of trust and loyalty

Now with so much uncertainty he may hang on through his final season because there will simply be no time for elections. That will mean things stay as they are – welcome to another 12 months of statements and counter-statements from Messi and the president.

Then at the end of 2021 it does feel like there is a Barca revolution coming. Club legend Xavi said in an interview at the weekend that he would like to return to Barcelona but he added: ‘There cannot be anyone toxic anywhere near the dressing room. I like working with people I have trust in and where there is loyalty. We are talking about people such as Carles Puyol or Jordi Cruyff.’

This week’s disagreements are just another example of how the changing of the guard at the Camp Nou is inevitable and how Messi wants to still be around when it happens.

 


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