Ernesto Valverde

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Messi blasts Abidal, asks Barcelona director to name names

Leave a comment

Lionel Messi felt compelled to speak after Barcelona’s players were thrown under the bus by director of football Eric Abidal.

The Frenchman won four La Liga titles and two Champions League crowns with Barcelona before replacing Roberto Fernandez as Barca director of football in 2018.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Abidal claimed that the players did not work hard for Ernesto Valverde before he was fired for Quique Setien, and Messi bristled at the director’s words.

Posting a screenshot of Abidal’s interview on Instagram, Messi issued this verdict on his former teammate’s words. From Marca:

“I honestly do not like doing these things, but I think everyone has to be responsible for their tasks and take care of their decisions. The players are responsible for what happens on the pitch and we are also the first to recognise when we’re not doing well.

“Those responsible for the sports management must also assume their responsibilities and, above all, take ownership of the decisions they make. Finally, I think that when talking about players, names should be given. Because if not then we are tarred with comments that are said and are not true.”

Abidal’s not going to be pleased with that, and he has little recourse given Messi’s massive power and controlled tongue, let alone the fact that he’s trying to negotiate a new deal with the Argentine.

This chess move backfired.

Reports: Barcelona fires Valverde, hiring former Betis boss Setien

Barcelona makes managerial change
Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Quique Setien is set to replace Ernesto Valverde at Barcelona, according to numerous reports in Spain.

The former Las Palmas and Real Betis boss, 61, would be a surprise successor to be sure.

Valverde has been under fire for Barca’s uneven season, though that phrase happens to describe a tie for first in La Liga with rivals Real Madrid.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

According to Marca, “The Barcelona board approved the decision for the 61-year-old to become the new Blaugrana boss unanimously, with the former Betis coach’s stock having gone up since this morning.”

The club has not announced any changes. Reporter Guillem Balague says the silence from Barcelona is down to the resolution of Valverde’s contract with the Catalan club.

He also proffers a thread with lofty praise for Setien.

Barcelona’s attack has been lethal but it’s defending subpar; Valverde’s proverbial hot seat was engulfed in flames when the Blaugranas wasted a 2-1 lead in the Spanish Super Cup semifinal versus Atletico Madrid.

Valverde led Barcelona to La Liga titles in both of his full seasons in charge, but disappointing collapses in the Champions League soured the domestic triumphs.

Defending will become even more important with Luis Suarez out for four months.

There’s time to get sorted for the stretch run, with a manageable run of fixtures. There’s Valencia away as the stiffest challenge of a half-dozen La Liga outings before Napoli arrives for the Champions League Round of 16, followed by the away El Clasico.

Valverde set to lead Barca training despite Xavi reports

Valverde in question as Barcelona speaks with Xavi
Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s all a mess at Barcelona, as messy as it can be for a table-leading side.

Barca threw away a spot in the Spanish Super Cup Final with more miserable game management and defending versus Atletico Madrid at midweek, heaping pressure on Ernesto Valverde.

He may just pack up and leave given the weekend’s news that Barcelona director of football Eric Abidal flew to Qatar to meet with Xavi Hernandez about the manager’s position.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Valverde, it’s worth noting, has won La Liga in both of his seasons in charge of the squad. Valverde’s Barca is level with Real Madrid on 40 points, five points ahead of Atleti and Sevilla.

Al Sadd executive director Turki Al-Ali issued a statement saying it is “normal and expected” that Xavi will one day leave for Barcelona, but that nothing is imminent. Reuters correspondent Richard Martin says Xavi has not decided his future, though an AS report claims he wants the job in the summer.

All this leaves the two-time reigning league winner in a rough spot, Valverde wondering what’s next. El Pais suspects Barca may need a bridge manager.

To be frank, Valverde’s roster aside from elite weapons Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Antoine Griezmann seems stuck between too old and too green. Messi is having perhaps the best season in the world, but Suarez undergoes surgery on Sunday and Griezmann still growing into his Blaugrana shoes.

But the massive chances coughed up to Atleti at midweek were too familiar, and Barca needs some fresh ideas to shore up their structure. Frenkie de Jong and Ansu Fati aren’t going to fix the back.

There’s time to get sorted for the stretch run, with a manageable run of fixtures. There’s Valencia away as the stiffest challenge of a half-dozen La Liga outings before Napoli arrives for the Champions League Round of 16, followed by the away El Clasico.

Will Valverde be the man overseeing any of it?

Xavi: ‘I can’t deny that my dream is to coach Barcelona’

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Barcelona legend and current Al-Sadd coach Xavi Hernandez confessed that his dream is to coach his former club, amid reports of current talks between the 39-year-old and the La Liga champions.

“I can’t deny that my dream is to coach Barcelona,” Xavi said on Saturday after leading his side to the Qatari cup final. “I’ve said it so many times, in a lot of interviews. Everyone knows that I’m a Barcelona fan, the club are in my heart and my dreams. But for now I’m focused on Al-Sadd.”

Current manager Ernesto Valverde is facing pressure at the Blaugrana after a late collapse against Atletico Madrid in the semifinals of the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia on Thursday. It’s the 55-year-old’s second consecutive poor result, with Barcelona dropping points against rivals and league-worst Espanyol in their last La Liga bout.

Barcelona’s Director of Football – and former teammate of Xavi – Eric Abidal and CEO Oscar Grau traveled to Doha, Qatar to meet with Xavi on Friday and watched Al-Sadd’s semi-final win on Saturday, which booked the club a spot in the final. Xavi, however, was tight-lipped about discussing what was said during their meeting.

“Abidal is my friend,” Xavi added, “I’ve met with him a lot of times. I respect Barcelona, I respect Valverde and I respect my contract. I’m doing my job here. I’ve been focussing on the semi-final and now I’m thinking about the final. I’m very happy to be coaching Al-Sadd and I respect this club a lot. I can’t say anything else.”

On Saturday, Al-Sadd confirmed that negotiations between Xavi and Barcelona for the former midfielder to return to Spain are ongoing. The Qatari club has dismissed the reports in the past, but Al-Sadd sporting director, Ghulam Al Balushi, confirmed otherwise following the game.

“There are negotiations between Xavi and Barcelona now and we wish him the best of luck wherever he goes,” Al Balushi expressed to Alkass.

A graduate from La Masia, Xavi spent 24 years at Barcelona, accumulating over 700 appearances and lifting eight La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues.

Valverde questioned after another late collapse by Barcelona

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Barcelona had once again played great, led through goals by Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann, yet still managed to let it slip away.

Barcelona squandered one of its best performances of the season by conceding two late goals to Atletico Madrid, falling 3-2 in the semifinals of the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia.

Messi had equalized after Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion scored for Atletico, and Griezmann put Barcelona deservedly ahead 2-1. But the goalkeeping of Jan Oblak, Atletico’s star this season, kept Barcelona out the rest of the way while Alvaro Morata leveled with a penalty kick in the 82nd minute and Angel Correa completed the dramatic turnaround in the 86th.

For Barcelona, the chance to add a minor trophy from a mini-tournament played thousands of miles away is not the main worry. The concern is Barcelona’s odd knack of losing control of games that look like a sure victory. Whether it’s a question of overconfidence, a lack of fitness or just momentary lapses that cost the team dearly, the pressure is on coach Ernesto Valverde.

Messi and other team leaders defended Valverde, whose very good overall record at Barcelona has been blemished by shocking defeats.

“It’s normal that when you lose and don’t reach your objectives, and when our fans see that the team is not playing like they would like, that people talk and say things,” Messi said. “We have to be more united than ever, remain a strong group and get through this.

“This year will we try to play like we did today (before the late goals) and not commit childish errors like those we committed today.”

Barcelona’s loss at the King Abdullah Sports City on Thursday came five days after it conceded an 88th-minute equalizer at Espanyol in the Spanish league. The late goal by Wu Lei also came on a desperate counterattack similar to both of Atletico’s late attacks that led to goals, when Barcelona’s backline was out of sync and let a pass through to a player with only goalkeeper Neto to beat. Wu’s goal ruined a superb match by Luis Suarez, who had scored with a fine touch and made a difficult pass for an assist.

Suarez also backed Valverde on Thursday by taking the blame for the stumble against Atletico.

“This loss shows we have room to improve,” the Uruguay striker said. “It shows us that there are mistakes that we can’t make because we were in charge of the game and we let them mount counterattacks. But the coach is not at fault; they were mistakes that we made.”

Barcelona has drawn three of its last four league matches, but still lead the competition on goal difference ahead of Real Madrid. The team was leading before finishing 2-2 at Real Sociedad last month; lost 3-1 at Levante after Messi had put them ahead in November; and gave up a goal in the 81st in a 2-2 draw at Osasuna in August.

Those setbacks would not be as worrisome for Barcelona if the team had not completely collapsed in the Champions League in recent seasons, most recently a humiliating 4-0 loss at Liverpool after winning the first leg of the semifinals 3-0. Valverde’s job was then in even more jeopardy at the end of last season after Barcelona lost the Copa del Rey final to Valencia, casting a shadow of doubt over the Spanish league champions. Club president Josep Bartomeu, however, has stuck by the former player who is known for his intelligence and unflappable attitude.

Valverde is in his third season at Barcelona. He has won back-to-back Spanish league titles and one Copa del Rey final. A European Cup has eluded him.

Valverde said he was used to the criticism as part of a job that was never secure.

“We coaches always work with the idea of giving it our all to each match,” Valverde said. “We know how soccer is and that there is a permanent instability in teams when you are not getting good results or when you lose. Now that we have lost I suppose people will talk about it, but I remain focused on my job.”

Valverde’s next job is to prepare for the visit of Granada on Jan. 19.

In the meantime, Atletico will face crosstown rival Real Madrid in the Super Cup final on Sunday.