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When news broke yesterday morning (Eastern time) that forward Ousmane Dembele would likely miss the rest of the season after injuring his thigh in training on Monday, that should have been the low point of the day, if not the week, for Barcelona.
The fact the Catalans now have just three forwards on their roster — 32-year-old Lionel Messi, 28-year-old Antoine Griezmann and 17-year-old Ansu Fati — should be this organization’s biggest problem. But at the moment, that’s a secondary concern amid the war of words between Sporting Director Eric Abidal and Lionel Messi.
UPDATE: According to ESPN’s Moises Llorens and Sam Marsden, Messi has since assured club President Josep Maria Bartomeu that he is “happy to turn the page on the incident.”
We’ll get to what this means going forward, but first, a primer on how we got here:
Abidal’s comments and Messi’s seething response
This all started when Abidal decided to explain the thought process behind the recent sacking of Manager Ernesto Valverde to Barcelona-based publication Sport, saying, “Many players were not satisfied or working a lot [under Valverde] and there was also an issue with internal communication. The relationship between the coach and the dressing room was good, but there are things that an ex-player can smell. I told the club what I thought and we reached a decision.”
The whole “many players were not satisfied” thing did not go over well with Messi, who issued an unusually heated response on Instagram. Had he expressed the following in private with Abidal, it’d be a big deal for Barcelona, but nothing like what it is: the biggest story in Spain at the moment.
Among other things, Messi said on Instagram beside a screenshot of Abidal’s interview that “everyone has to be responsible for their job and take responsibility for their decisions.” The Argentine added that “when you speak about players, you should have to give names. If you don’t, you’re dirtying everyone’s name and encouraging things which are said which are not true.”
In two words, who knows?
Messi choosing to publicly rip his club’s sporting director (his boss, if a player of Messi’s stature truly has a “boss”) is *newsflash* a huge deal. The two have a 13-year relationship, including six as teammates, as Gabriele Marcotti pointed out for ESPN.com in a piece worth reading.
The most logical thing for me to say here would probably be “who knows?” But that wouldn’t be very interesting. There seem to be two realistic possibilities here: A) Abidal apologizes to Messi and this thing blows over, to the extent that something like this “blows over” or B) Abidal gets sacked — and it wouldn’t be a shock if that happened today. Abidal is an important exec at Barcelona, but if the club believes there are irreparable differences between Abidal and Messi, take a wild guess who they’re going to side with.
We’ve called other stories in Spain “fluid situations” and talked about “a lot of moving pieces” plenty of other times before, but as far as immediate developments go, this is as “stay tuned” as it gets.
Longer-term, what’s really interesting is what this means for Bartomeu. He’s in his final term leading the Catalans — an election is scheduled for summer ’21 — and he and has board have been divisive for quite some time. The slew of controversies in recent years/months cannot possibly have solidified his standing. In fact, there’s already chatter about the possibility of the presidential election being bumped up to this summer.
We’d also be remiss not to mention the fact that Messi turns 33 this summer and his contract expires in June ’21. Are things at this club so bad that he could finish his career elsewhere? That seems unlikely, but at this point, it’s hard to rule out anything regarding this organization.
In the meantime, check out the measured coverage of this on the covers of Spain’s top sports pages:
Sport: Tsunami. Abidal blames … and Messi responds
📰 PORTADA de SPORT (05/02/2020): “Tsunami” https://t.co/ArfBpixC4F
— El Bernabéu (@elbernabeucom) February 5, 2020
Mundo Deportivo: Messi against Abidal
— ⚽️ Mrportadas 🏆 (@Mrportadas1) February 5, 2020
Marca: Blow from Messi. Barca is a powder keg. The captain explodes
— La libreta de Miguel (@SoyGuzmanm) February 5, 2020
As: Caos FC
— AS Fotografía (@FotografiAS_AS) February 5, 2020
Those are all pretty damn strong, but Caos FC is hard to top. Barcelona has a number of nicknames, but at the moment, Caos FC is as apt as any.