Football: Board woes cloud Barca form

Lionel Messi remains Barcelona's talisman with his derby hat-trick. More of the same will be expected when they face Juventus.
Lionel Messi remains Barcelona's talisman with his derby hat-trick. More of the same will be expected when they face Juventus.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Messi-propelled wins have not stopped the Nou Camp faithful's calls for president's head

BARCELONA • A 5-0 derby win, an assist for €105 million (S$169 million) purchase Ousmane Dembele on his debut and a four-point LaLiga lead over Real Madrid ought to have brought some semblance of relief to Barcelona's beleaguered board.

Yet, cries for president Josep Maria Bartomeu to resign rang around the Nou Camp, moments after celebrations from Luis Suarez's goal from Dembele's cross in the final minute of Saturday's thrashing of Espanyol had died down.

To the fans, Bartomeu and his cohorts deserve no reflected glory for the players' performances, as they have been in open conflict with the dressing room during a chaotic summer, precipitated by Neymar's departure for Paris Saint-Germain.

Juventus' visit in the Champions League today could have offered the chance of a new start and revenge for last season's quarter-final defeat by the Italian champions.

Instead, the battle for control of the club between fans, players and the president rages on.

After Saturday's rout, supporters formed large queues to sign a no-confidence petition launched by former presidential candidate Agusti Benedito.

For all of Barca's off-field problems, on the pitch they can still rely on Lionel Messi. The five-time World Player of the Year's hat-trick at the weekend took his tally for the season to six.

  • 6


    Goals by Lionel Messi in five appearances this season, five in the last two LaLiga matches to add to the one in the Spanish Super Cup.

However, Bartomeu's handling of Messi's future has become another stick with which to beat the club's board. Barca announced an agreement with the Argentinian, whose contract expires at the end of the season, to extend his deal to 2021 back on July 5.

Yet, he has still to put pen to paper despite Bartomeu's insistence the wait for Messi's signature is merely a matter of time.

The club claim the case of captain Andres Iniesta, whose deal also runs out next year, is the same.

Bartomeu told Catalan daily Mundo Deportivo last week there was an agreement in principle for the 33-year-old to renew, only for the mild-mannered Iniesta to flatly refute that claim less than 24 hours later.

The board's decision to repeatedly attack and even sue Neymar for breach of contract has also backfired. A number of Barca's leading players including Messi and Suarez posted pictures online of them embracing their old team-mate.

"This president is a joke," Neymar posted on Instagram last week.

Defender Gerard Pique revealed that the players knew of Neymar's intentions to leave as far back as Messi's wedding on June 30. Senior board members claim to have not been informed until days before Neymar's departure on Aug 2.

Neymar's world record €222 million (S$358 million) move sparked a wild goose chase in the final few weeks of the transfer window at Barca, as dozens of targets came and went with only Dembele and Brazilian international Paulinho arriving for grossly inflated fees.

A 5-1 Spanish Super Cup aggregate thrashing by Real Madrid piled more pressure on Bartomeu. League wins over Real Betis, Alaves and Espanyol have only served to show how much Barca need Messi.

Bartomeu needs him to sign his new deal even more to quench the thirst for his resignation.

On the field, the visit of Juventus gives manager Ernesto Valverde the chance to find out how good his side actually is. Dembele and Paulinho are unlikely to start as he will rely on the likes of the in-form Messi and Ivan Rakitic to get a good result.

Juventus have enjoyed a perfect start to the new Serie A season and continued their solid form on Saturday with a 3-0 win over Chievo at home. But, according to coach Massimiliano Allegri, they will be without the injured Sami Khedira and Claudio Marchisio, while they are also assessing the fitness of Alex Sandro, Giorgio Chiellini and Mario Mandzukic.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2017, with the headline 'Board woes cloud Barca form'. Print Edition | Subscribe