Barcelona sporting director Eric Abidal has had his contract terminated by mutual consent, the LaLiga club have announced.

The former France international's departure continues a post-season overhaul at Camp Nou, with head coach Quique Setien sacked following the humiliating 8-2 Champions League quarter-final loss to Bayern Munich.

A report by Sport suggested the majority of the Barcelona first-team squad are up for sale ahead of Ronald Koeman's expected appointment as Setien's successor.

Lionel Messi is not among the vast list of Blaugrana players thought to be on the market, although a report by Marcelo Bechler – the journalist who broke news of Neymar's shock move from Barca to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 – stated the six-time Ballon d'Or winner wants to leave.

What increasingly looks like a sizeable rebuild will now not be helmed by Abidal, who has been under pressure since the botched handling of Ernesto Valverde's departure.

Setien's predecessor was dismissed in January after Barcelona were knocked out of the Supercopa de Espana, despite them being top of LaLiga at that stage.

"FC Barcelona and Eric Abidal have reached an agreement for the termination of the contract which united both parties," a club statement read.

"The club publicly expresses its gratitude to Eric Abidal for the professionalism, commitment, dedication and positive and close treatment he has always shown towards all the estates that make up the Barca family and wishes him luck and success in the future."

Abidal always looked vulnerable after Barcelona's collapse at home – Real Madrid regained the LaLiga title – and abroad, yet a report by Cadena Cope late on Monday said he would remain in his post.

Despite a succession of underwhelming and expensive signings since his June 2018 appointment, from a flop on the grand scale of the now departed Malcom to the hugely underwhelming and publicly pursued Antoine Griezmann, Abidal's handling of Valverde's exit marked something of a nadir.

A coach responsible for back-to-back LaLiga triumphs, albeit set alongside painful Champions League exits at the hands of Roma and Liverpool, was undermined by reports of Abidal apparently courting Xavi for his post, only for the club great to reject a return to Barcelona in the dugout and pave the way for Setien's doomed tenure.

Most significantly, especially given recent reports around the 33-year-old captain's future, Messi reacted furiously to Abidal's suggestion the Barcelona players had not been working hard enough under Valverde.

In an Instagram post in February, Messi wrote: "Honestly, I don’t like doing these things but I think that everyone has to be responsible for his acts and take responsibility for their own decisions.

"The players [are responsible for] what happens on the pitch, and we have been the first to recognise when we were not good. The people in the sporting directorate should also assume their responsibility and above all take ownership of the decisions they make.

"Finally, I think that when players are talked about, names should be given because, if not, we are all being dirtied and it feeds comments that are made and are not true."

The prolonged torment of the past few months stands in stark contrast to Abidal's inspirational playing days at Barcelona.

A €9million signing from Lyon in 2007, he went on to star in the 2008-09 treble-winning side under Pep Guardiola – the honours of that season being the first of four LaLiga titles, two Champions Leagues and two Copas del Rey that Abidal won as a player in Catalonia.

In March 2011, Abidal was diagnosed with a tumour in his liver and underwent surgery to have it removed. Remarkably, he was back in action before the end of the season and played 90 minutes in the 3-1 Champions League final win over Manchester United, after which he was handed the captain's armband to lift the trophy at Wembley.

The 67-cap France international was forced to undergo a liver transplant the following year but again made a comeback before moving to Monaco at the end of the 2012-13 campaign, eventually retiring as a player in December 2014 after a short stint at Olympiacos.

With all eyes on Barcelona, Lionel Messi's future is again a talking point.

The Catalans capitulated in the Champions League on Friday, thrashed 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals in an embarrassing defeat.

Quique Setien appears set to be sacked as coach, while Messi's future has become unclear.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY TARGET MESSI AMID BARCELONA CHAOS

Manchester City think they are in pole position to sign Messi if he leaves Barcelona, according to the Mirror.

Messi, 33, is contracted to Barca until next year and is reportedly prepared to walk away from the club amid the chaos.

City have been linked with the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner previously, while Inter are another reportedly interested.

ROUND-UP

- Changes are expected at Barcelona. AS reports Messi will be free to decide his future in January, while it says Setien and technical secretary Eric Abidal are on their way out.

- The focus otherwise in Spain is on Setien's replacement at Barcelona. Mundo Deportivo reports Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman is a candidate to take over at Camp Nou with Mauricio Pochettino and Al Sadd boss Xavi losing steam. Marca says Pochettino and Koeman are favourites, while Sport reports the former Tottenham manager is the frontrunner. It says Koeman, Massimiliano Allegri, Thierry Henry and Garcia Pimienta are also candidates.

- Elsewhere, Chelsea's apparent search for a defender continues. The Sun reports they are closing in on a £40million move for Brighton and Hove Albion centre-back Lewis Dunk, who is also reportedly a target for Tottenham.

- Staying at Stamford Bridge and Chelsea are also linked with goalkeepers to replace Kepa Arrizabalaga. The Sun says Chelsea and Everton are targeting Watford's 37-year-old shot-stopper Ben Foster.

- After an impressive loan spell at Roma, Chris Smalling is attracting plenty of interest. Sky Sports reports Newcastle United are keen on the Manchester United defender.

For the Barcelona players and staff, there was nowhere to hide in the glare of the Estadio da Luz. 

An unprecedented, unmitigated, humiliating 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Friday laid bare the serious malfunctioning of one of the world's grandest clubs. 

President Josep Maria Bartomeu has already confirmed that "announcements will be made" next week, likely beginning with the future of coach Quique Setien, but Barca's problems run far deeper, from the boardroom to the dressing room. 

"Nobody is safe," said Gerard Pique after the match. "It is not the first time, the second time or the third time, it's very tough. I hope it is useful for something." 

The defender needs nobody to tell him that significant changes must be made at Camp Nou and he himself offered to leave for the good of the club. Ironically, such a public admission suggests he is the kind of character Barca need to keep. 

Who, then, are the people who should go if Barca are to become great again? 

THE BOARD

Josep Maria Bartomeu

The buck stops with the president. Bartomeu survived those infamous nights in Rome and Liverpool, but Lisbon must surely be the beginning of the end for a man who has presided over a wretched, expensive decline. Victor Font is presently the only rival candidate for the 2021 elections, if we get there.

Javier Bordas

Bordas is the director in charge of the football first team at Barca and, regardless of the presidency, it is only right that a new figurehead is put in place to oversee the rebuild.

THE EXECUTIVES

Eric Abidal

Barca's first-team technical secretary came under pressure after a public falling-out with Lionel Messi this year, and his job now looks untenable.  It's essential Barca appoint someone who can repair the damaged relations between the board and the players. Carles Puyol has been touted as a good candidate for the role, including by Messi. 

Oscar Grau

As CEO, Grau is the beating heart of Barcelona's operations and he cannot escape blame for the way the football project has been run in recent years. Speculation has seen Sevilla's Monchi linked with the role.

THE COACHES

Quique Setien

The problems ran deeper than Ernesto Valverde and sacking his successor will likewise not solve everything, but watching him lean against the Luz dugout, silent and stewing, made it abundantly clear that he cannot fix this team. Mauricio Pochettino is available and, despite past reservations, he seems willing to put aside his Espanyol loyalty.

Eder Sarabia

Setien's assistant would almost certainly follow him out of the door. Sarabia looks to have struggled to get the players to buy into the boss' demands and it would not make much sense to stay.

THE SQUAD

Martin Braithwaite

Barca were given special dispensation to sign Braithwaite from Leganes due to injury, while Leganes were denied the same option. They were relegated, Barca's season ended in infamy, and Braithwaite was not even eligible to play. West Ham are apparently interested.

Philippe Coutinho

Coutinho came off the bench to score twice and assist another for Bayern against Barca, the Catalans having loaned out their €140million-plus man after becoming unconvinced by his form. You'd struggle to imagine a more damning visual indictment of Barca's transfer policy.

The coronavirus pandemic has hampered spending across the continent, but any moderate fee for the Brazilian would help Barca to build for the future.

Rafinha

Rafinha has played eight league games in three years for Barca, spending most of that time on loan at Inter and Celta. Now 27, it's time they cash in. Everton and Wolves have been linked. 

Ivan Rakitic

Unfairly maligned by a section of the fanbase, Rakitic has probably reached the point where a move is in everyone's best interests. He has declined since helping Croatia to the 2018 World Cup final and, despite insisting he will stay, a return to Sevilla would ease the burden on the Barca wage bill and help to bring down the squad's average age.

Nelson Semedo

Right-back has been a problem position since Dani Alves left in 2015, and Semedo's performance against Bayern made it clear that he is not the long-term solution. Manchester City had been linked, although Pep Guardiola will surely have been put off by Friday's viewing.

Jean-Clair Todibo

He's only 20 and has played four times in LaLiga, but selling Todibo would be a simple way for Barca to raise desperately needed funds. Schalke, who signed him on loan in January, had a €25m purchase option.

Samuel Umtiti

Barca were terrified of losing the centre-back in the wake of Neymar's Paris Saint-Germain move, with Umtiti's release clause at just €60m. Since that buyout price was increased to €500m, Umtiti has been undermined by injuries, inconsistency and coaching changes at Camp Nou, but he could still command a decent fee.

Arturo Vidal

One of the few players who has impressed under Setien, Vidal is 33 and should not really be part of the Barca rebuild. His contract is up next year, so now is the time to sell to earn even a small fee.

Moussa Wague

Nice chose not to activate their purchase option on the full-back, but he remains a sellable asset for Barca, who are unlikely to use him in the first team next season.

After the Bundesliga's successful return, LaLiga looks to be up next among Europe's top five leagues.

Spain's top flight has been suspended since March 12 after Real Madrid went into quarantine when a player on their basketball team tested positive for coronavirus.

A resumption date of June 8 has been approved, however, and a tense title tussle is back on the cards between the country's two grandest clubs.

Ahead of the big kick-off behind closed doors, we take a look at the story so far in this LaLiga campaign.
 

What is the state of play?

Madrid have won the domestic league title in just one of the past seven seasons, yet they are poised to push Barcelona all the way this time.

It is Barca who again have the advantage for now, though, holding a two-point lead over their bitter rivals, having reclaimed top spot ahead of the suspension when Zinedine Zidane's side lost at Real Betis.

Defeat in Seville represented a bitter blow for Madrid, who seemed to have seized the initiative by beating the Blaugrana at the Santiago Bernabeu the previous week.

The big two still have work to do in the Champions League - Madrid trail Manchester City after a last-16 first leg, as Barca-Napoli stands at 1-1 - but there is no third horse in the race positioned to take advantage.

It is all to play for in the race for Champions League qualification, as just two points separate third-placed Sevilla and Atletico Madrid in sixth.

Shot-shy draw kings Atleti upset holders Liverpool to reach the quarter-finals of Europe's elite club competition, but must battle past Real Sociedad and Getafe to be assured of a return to the big time next season.

At the foot of the table, Espanyol, Leganes and Real Mallorca occupy the relegation places. Celta Vigo are a point clear of Mallorca in 17th.
 

What have been the big controversies?

Even by Barca's colourful standards, this has been a particularly tumultuous season.

Head coach Ernesto Valverde was sacked in January following a Supercopa de Espana semi-final reverse at the hands of Atletico, and sporting director Eric Abidal bravely picked a fight with the squad, including former team-mate Lionel Messi, by suggesting players were not working hard enough for the dismissed boss.

Messi fired back and claimed Abidal was "dirtying" the squad, with reports of discontent behind the scenes persisting ever since.

To make matters worse for Barca, club great Messi has a clause in his contract that could prompt a free transfer - although such a departure still seems incredibly unlikely.

Ivan Rakitic is among the Blaugrana stars who might well depart, reminding the club: "I am not a sack of potatoes. I will decide my future. I want to be where I am valued."

Sales are said to be required to fund potential big-money bids for Lautaro Martinez and ex-Barca forward Neymar.
 

Who had momentum before everything stopped?

New head coach Quique Setien was not immediately able to arrest Barca's January slump and they ceded top spot to Madrid after a run of just two wins in six in the league.

However, the Catalan giants had been a picture of consistency since the January 25 loss at Valencia - until visiting Madrid.

A run of four straight wins was ended by Zidane's men, yet Barca were back on track when they beat Sociedad prior to the pause in play.

Madrid, by contrast, have taken just four points from their past four games, with the Barca game sandwiched between a pair of defeats. Los Blancos had previously lost just once in the league this term.

The suspension came at a frustrating time for Sociedad, meanwhile, after four wins in five - losing only to the leaders - moved the Basque outfit into the top four.

Wins for Leganes and Mallorca in their most recent fixtures ensured both sides retained survival hopes.
 

Which clubs have had it toughest during the COVID-19 months?

The positive test for a Madrid basketball players may have prompted the season's suspension, but Valencia were the LaLiga club most prominent in early discussion of coronavirus.

Ezequiel Garay, Jose Gaya and Eliaquim Mangala each confirmed diagnoses, before Los Che revealed on March 16 that 35 per cent of those at the club tested had returned positive results.

Madrid still made the headlines, though, as forward Luka Jovic was criticised for breaching self-isolation measures on his return to Serbia.

Fifteen cases were soon confirmed at Deportivo Alaves, too, while Spain has become one of the worst-affected countries with more than 28,000 related deaths.

The country's leading players at least helped to limit the financial impact of the crisis with pay cuts, with Barca stars forgoing more than 70 per cent of their wages.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has defended the club's decision to sign Martin Braithwaite but admits Leganes have every right to feel aggrieved by the transfer.

The LaLiga champions confirmed on Thursday they had signed the striker after triggering an €18million release clause in his contract.

Barca were granted special dispensation to sign Braithwaite outside of the transfer window after losing Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele to long-term injuries.

LaLiga strugglers Leganes have been blocked from bringing in a replacement forward, however, much to the frustration of the club's general director Martin Ortega.

Ortega accused the league and the Royal Spanish Football Federation of causing Leganes "irreparable damage" and has asked for the rule to be amended.

Speaking at Braithwaite's introductory news conference on Thursday, Bartomeu agreed the loophole needs to be looked at.

"We have paid the clause following the regulations, although we believe that it should be revised because it is not fair that Leganes cannot now sign anyone," he told reporters.

Barcelona's decision to sign Braithwaite has raised eyebrows, but Bartomeu believes the former Middlesbrough forward can be a big asset for the club this season and beyond.

"After analysing different players, we chose Martin. We believe it will help us win the two remaining titles," he added.

"I am very excited about the arrival of a new player and we hope he will help us in a league that we want to win and that is very open. He will give us strength.

"We had a long-term injured player like Dembele, in addition to Luis Suarez. The technical team has studied players and we hope Braithwaite can debut quickly.

"He has signed for the next four and a half years and comes to help now and for the future."

Braithwaite could make his debut when Eibar visit Camp Nou on Saturday, and Barca director Eric Abidal is happy with the new arrival.

"Martin is a Denmark international, with experience different from those players we have," said Abidal, who dodged questions regarding his recent row with Lionel Messi.

"He has character, strength, speed and great potential. I have had the opportunity to speak with coaches he has had. He will contribute a lot and be decisive. 

"Hopefully, we can compete with him at the highest level."

Ernesto Valverde is reluctant to consider whether he was harshly treated at Barcelona following his Camp Nou sacking in January.

The former Athletic Bilbao coach had been in charge of Barca since May 2017, winning LaLiga in each of his two full seasons, also claiming the Copa del Rey and Supercopa de Espana in 2018.

But the Blaugrana's Champions League humblings at the hands of Roma and Liverpool in consecutive campaigns, collapsing from healthy first-leg leads on both occasions, increased pressure on Valverde.

A Supercopa semi-final defeat to Atletico Madrid ultimately spelled the end for Valverde, yet he is choosing not to spend too much time reflecting on his departure.

"I don't think about that," Valverde said at the Bilbao International Football Summit. "If I have been unfairly treated, I have to avoid it.

"It's about turning the page. In the end, we are thinking about what has happened and why. We're going to look forward, I don't have to look back."

Sporting director Eric Abidal sparked a row with Lionel Messi and chaos at Camp Nou last week as he suggested Barcelona players were not working hard enough for Valverde before the head coach's exit.

But Valverde would not speculate on the matter, adding: "Why did I leave? It is not a question for me.

"This is a part of our trade that you have to accept. Would I like it to be different? Yes, of course."

Valverde, who also represented Barcelona as a player, acknowledged he was well aware of the scrutiny he would face at the Catalan club upon his arrival.

"I was incredibly fortunate to coach Barca," he said. "I have been there as a player. I know what it means when you go to a club of this calibre. I am delighted to have been there.

"When you sign the contract, you know that you are important at the club and, from there, decide the results. We know that the coach is responsible for the players' performances."

Barcelona are three points behind rivals and LaLiga leaders Real Madrid under new coach Quique Setien, while they face Napoli in the last 16 of the Champions League later this month.

Neymar's return would hand Barcelona a huge boost, according to sporting director Eric Abidal.

The Brazil superstar left Camp Nou for PSG in a world-record €222million transfer in August 2017 but has been persistently linked with a move back to Barca.

Head coach Quique Setien said last week he would relish the chance to coach the Neymar and Abidal believes such a deal might be possible.

Asked for his opinion on Neymar coming back to the Catalan giants, Abidal told Mundo Deportivo: "I totally agree.

"Quique would be proud to be able to coach a player like Neymar and the others here who are of such a high level."

Barca have been left short in attack by serious injuries to Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele, though Ansu Fati impressed with a double in a 2-1 victory over Levante last weekend.

On the effect signing Neymar could have on Fati, Abidal said: "That's why planning is not so easy. We may wish to have all the best players, but we can't make a mistake in the development of players.

"Since Ansu broke into the first team, he's contributed a lot. In the last [LaLiga] game, he showed his talent again. He's a player who can play in many positions and you have to take that into account.

"I think the player is 100 per cent with us, with the first team, and has the goal of staying here for many years."

Barca could help fund a move for Neymar by letting Philippe Coutinho make his loan at Bayern permanent, which the Bundesliga giants can achieve by activating a €120m option.

However, it has been reported this week that Barca would be willing to consider an offer at €80m.

"The information we have is that Bayern are very happy with Philippe and Philippe is also very happy there," said Abidal.

"It's true they have an option [to buy him], but we have to plan perfectly with those who are in house and on loan, and then we'll see."

Another player who could be heading for the exit at Camp Nou is Ivan Rakitic, who accused the club of a lack of respect and was disappointed by the treatment of former coach Ernesto Valverde.

"I don't know in what sense of respect he spoke about," said Abidal, who believes Rakitic remains content at Barca.

"For a player, the most important thing is to have minutes. He's gone through a difficult moment with Valverde, now we have changed coach. It's something for the coach, because I can't manage playing minutes for a player.

"We have respect because we haven't spoken with anybody, and neither has he, it seems. He said he planned to leave but in the end he decided to stay at Barca and if he did that, it's because there is a percentage of satisfaction."

Lionel Messi "has every right in the world" to be angry with Eric Abidal, according to former Barcelona star Rivaldo.

Tensions are running high at Camp Nou following a disappointing week of results on the pitch and an apparent dispute between the club captain and the first-team technical secretary.

Messi used a social media post to criticise Abidal after he accused some Barca players of downing tools during Ernesto Valverde's final weeks as head coach.

Messi felt Abidal, a former team-mate at Barca, was "dirtying" the squad by making generalised comments about their efforts without naming any specific players.

The issue has led to suggestions Messi could exercise an option to have his Barca contract cancelled at the end of the season in order to leave on a free transfer, although Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on Friday moved to quash any suggestion he would try to tempt his former player to England.

Rivaldo believes a difficult few days for his old club, compounded by Thursday's Copa del Rey elimination at the hands of Athletic Bilbao, will be swiftly forgotten if the team returns to winning ways quickly.

However, the 1999 Ballon d'Or winner thinks Messi was always likely to jump to the defence of his team-mates after Abidal's "naive" remarks.

"Leo Messi's reaction last Wednesday in which, through his social pages, he criticised Eric Abidal, seems normal to me," he said via Betfair.

"Messi has every right in the world to be angry with Abidal over the way in which he complained about the professionalism of some players in training, especially when he did not mention any specific name.

"That called the whole squad into question. It's hard to talk about this situation from the outside, but Messi just tried to defend the group and himself, maintain his reputation and - at the same time - find out which players Abidal was referring to.

"The latter was naive in saying something like that in an interview that, of course, would have a big impact in the media, forcing Messi to react.

"These types of problems should be solved internally. Abidal didn't do it on purpose but, ultimately, he has hurt the club.

"It's now clear that Ernesto Valverde was not the biggest problem for the club. The biggest loser in all of this is Barca.

"Abidal and Messi should have a conversation, as good people. Abidal is in a difficult situation, especially because the player who reacted to his comments is not just anybody: he's the captain of Barca and a superstar. He's Leo Messi.

"Simply getting back on the road to victories will calm all this."

Abidal also said this week that it was "not impossible" for Barca to bring back Neymar - a transfer Messi is said to have been keen for the club to make last year.

Rivaldo thinks his compatriot, who joined Paris Saint-Germain for a world-record €222million fee in 2017, would be the ideal signing to take some of the pressure off Barca's number 10.

"Barcelona need to find a player who makes the difference when Messi isn't there or it's not his night, as happened at San Mames," he added. "The club should look for a player to accompany him and replace him when necessary and, in my opinion, Neymar is that player.

"Barca should perhaps continue considering signing him next summer. The club isn't responsible for Neymar leaving a couple of years ago.

"It's been a while since then and perhaps it's time for negotiations that allow him to return and spend the best years of his career at Camp Nou."

Barcelona have been branded "a club of clowns" by Christophe Dugarry after a dismal week for the club culminated in Copa del Rey elimination.

A 1-0 quarter-final loss to Athletic Bilbao at San Mames on Thursday was the latest blow for Barca in a turbulent period.

After failing to sign an attacker before the end of the January transfer deadline, Ousmane Dembele suffered a hamstring tear that requires surgery and is expected to miss the rest of campaign.

Sporting director Eric Abidal also gave an interview in which he cited a lack of effort being put in by some players as a motivating factor for the dismissal of Ernesto Valverde, which drew the ire of Lionel Messi.

There have consequently been reports Messi could leave Camp Nou at the end of the season, and Dugarry – who spent six months at Barca in the 1997-98 season – was scathing in his criticism of the way the club has been run in recent years.

"It's a club of clowns. Everything is done backwards," Dugarry said on RMC Sport.

"They buy [Philippe] Coutinho, Dembele, they buy guys and then sell them. You get the impression there is no project in this club.

"At every transfer window there is a problem. They've recruited very badly since the departures of Xavi and [Andres] Iniesta. They've spent loads.

"And above all they have a very bad image. There are far too many people who do not have the elegance, the class that there should be at a club of this standing.

"It's really a club that has no class."

Jordi Alba joined Lionel Messi in calling out Barcelona sporting director Eric Abidal for "throwing s***" within the club.

Abidal this week said in an interview with Catalan publication Sport that Barca took the decision to sack Ernesto Valverde after he and his colleagues identified "many players weren't satisfied nor working hard and there was also an internal communication problem".

Messi was disappointed the former left-back chose to tar all members of the squad with the same brush and did not specify names in his remarks.

Barca boss Quique Setien said on Wednesday the six-time Ballon d'Or winner remains happy at the club, with speculation mounting that he could opt to leave at the end of the season.

However, a 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals on Thursday was the latest blow for the club, who this week announced Ousmane Dembele will undergo surgery on a hamstring problem that is expected to rule him out of the rest of the campaign.

Speaking after the game at San Mames, Alba followed Messi's lead and claimed Abidal should have known better.

"This club gets enough s*** thrown at it from the outside so we shouldn't be throwing s*** at ourselves. That is the line to follow," said Alba.

"Abidal was a player, he is loved by the fans and that's why he should know what it's like inside the dressing room and how players feel."

Sergio Busquets headed the ball into his own net in the 93rd minute in Bilbao but Alba was pleased with the club's display.

"I think he had a very good game, one of the best of the season. It's a shame we lost at the last minute, but that's football," he said.

"I'm very proud of the team, especially for the level of the game. We have to continue like this.

"It's clearly the right path, we only missed the win. We played well, with possession and very clear openings. The result is a pity."

Lionel Messi was given the chance to do his talking on the pitch on Thursday after he was named in the Barcelona starting line-up for their Copa del Rey clash with Athletic Bilbao.

Messi made headlines this week when criticising Eric Abidal, the Spanish club's director of football, for suggesting some Barca players were not working hard enough under previous boss Ernesto Valverde.

The Argentina international called out Abidal for his comments in the media, telling the Frenchman he should name the individuals who were not pulling their weight.

Such a reaction has raised questions over Messi's future at Camp Nou, though the 32-year-old was selected in the XI for the quarter-final tie against Athletic.

Ansu Fati was also chosen in the team, the teenager keeping his place after scoring both goals in Barcelona's 2-1 LaLiga win over Levante at the weekend.

Head coach Quique Setien made just one change from that side, bringing in Sergi Roberto to replace Antoine Griezmann.

Even when you consider the well-reported exit clause in his contract, until recently the idea of Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona for another club was virtually unthinkable.

But this week friction has started to appear, with Messi publicly calling out Barca director of football Eric Abidal for bad-mouthing players in an interview, saying that "many players weren't satisfied nor working hard and there was also an internal communication problem" before Ernesto Valverde's sacking.

Messi's forthright response on Instagram said the "sports management must also assume their responsibilities" and suggested Abidal should name specific players if he is willing to criticise them, otherwise "we are all getting dirtied and feeding things that are said but aren't true".

Barca have since assured – via Spain's sports newspapers – that all is well, the pair have reconciled and Abidal will keep his job, but that is unlikely to dispel concern among supporters, particularly following further reports several other clubs have registered an interest.

Nevertheless, arguably for the first time ever, the prospect of Messi leaving does not seem an impossibility, particularly given a contract clause allows him to leave for free – but where would that leave Barca?

A BRUTAL GENIUS

Declaring Messi important to Barcelona would be an understatement akin to saying the Titanic was big. After all, he's helped them win 34 trophies.

Messi made his breakthrough in the 2004-05 season and his impact has been almost beyond comprehension. If the six-time Ballon d'Or winner isn't the greatest footballer of all-time, good luck making a case for anyone else.

He has gone on to play a role in 864 goals (622 goals, 242 assists) in 711 matches across all competitions, a truly astounding feat.

One gets an even greater perspective of his influence when considering how much of Barca's overall total that equates to.

Across the same period, the Blaugrana have scored 2,241 times, meaning he has had a hand in 39 per cent of all of their goals over a period of almost 16 years – including his first season when he featured on just nine occasions.

Since the 2007-08 campaign, his first with more than 20 involvements, that figure shoots up to 44 per cent – or 804 of Barca's 1,812 goals in that time.

ONE-MAN TEAM?

Given some of the players he has featured alongside, it is probably a step too far to suggest Barca have been a one-man team since Messi made a first-team role his own.

However, there can be little denying he has often carried them and no one else has had a remotely comparable impact.

Over the past 12 seasons, Messi has finished as Barca's leading scorer across all competitions in all but one - 2015-16 when Luis Suarez plundered 59.

His best was that remarkable 2011-12 campaign when he scored 73 goals across all fronts, while a haul of 29 assists took him to 102 involvements - 54 per cent of the team's total.

IRREPLACABLE?

Where do you even start when planning to replace a player who has been directly involved in almost 50 per cent of your club's goals in a 12-and-a-half-year period?

One would hope for Barca's sake they have some form of contingency plan, but even if they do, it's difficult to imagine them being able to buy anyone anywhere near as influential.

Messi is more than a mere footballer – Barca teams for more than a decade have been built with the purpose of getting the best out of him, while he is virtually unrivalled both as a creator and finisher.

Neymar is the obvious candidate to replace Messi when the time comes, as he does offer a similar blend of deadliness and craft, although Barca's financial constraints are well-documented and it's hard to see how they could afford him at the moment, even without Messi's wage.

They may opt to go down the route of signing a more singled-minded attacker, such as Kylian Mbappe or Lautaro Martinez, but again, certainly in the case of the former, affordability may be an issue.

Even if Antoine Griezmann manages to belatedly blossom in Barcelona colours, Messi's eventual departure will leave a gaping chasm that their current squad is unequipped to fill.

Putting together a post-Messi Barca could just be the single most fascinating rebuilding job in football history – but Josep Maria Bartomeu and Abidal will be clinging on to the hope that won't be for another few years yet.

Quique Setien insists Lionel Messi loves being at Barcelona and is smiling as normal in training amid his public disagreement with sporting director Eric Abidal.

Messi took to Instagram to urge Abidal to "give names" after the Frenchman questioned the work ethic of some Barca players under Setien's predecessor Ernesto Valverde.

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu is reportedly set to hold talks with Abidal to discuss the situation amid fevered speculation over the row.

Setien, though, claimed he was not interested in the situation and had not seen any change in Messi's attitude during training on Wednesday, with the same response applying to the squad as a whole.

Asked if the Argentina star was still motivated, Setien said: "Of course, I have seen him smiling, he seems fine, he loves coming to train, he loves being here, he looks the same as yesterday and the day before.

"Messi has the experience and the capacity to decide about things that he should or should not do. 

"I'm not going to get involved in the life of Messi, or anyone else.

"I'm nobody's dad, I have to ensure that my players come here, come here happy and that what we provide on the pitch are good for them to grow so that we can continue winning. The other stuff doesn't bother me at all."

Ahead of Thursday's away Copa del Rey quarter-final against Athletic Bilbao, Setien stressed that contest was his sole concern amid continued questions about Messi, Abidal, the hamstring injury to Ousmane Dembele and how the club had handled the January transfer window.

"The majority of things you have said I'm sure are very important things but they don't affect me at all," he said. 

"I will try everything possible to ensure my group are as little affected as possible. We spoke one minute about this, talking about the importance of tomorrow's game and the obligation we have to completely focus on that, which is what interests us.

"My interest is football, as for everything else I'm sure there are situations I'm not able to control so that's why I don't waste my time on them.

"I'm going to talk about what really interests me and the players, football. I will try to make sure everything that happens around the club doesn't affect us.

"I know there are always problems in this club and it is the same in every club in the world, I'm sure. You can talk, but talk to me about football, please. I want to have training, prepare for the game and focus."

Much has happened off the field in Setien's first month since replacing Valverde, but he was adamant about having no regrets over taking the Barca job.

"No, definitely not!" he said. "It is true I didn't have a problem a month ago at home, but what a problem this is to have. 

"I have the same desire, same will, maybe more now because my life has never been easy. 

"This is what you can expect when you come to team of this dimension. I've never crumbled easily and I'm absolutely convinced this will go well."

Lionel Messi has sensationally hit out at Barcelona director of football Eric Abidal after he suggested some players were not working hard enough prior to Ernesto Valverde's dismissal.

Abidal granted several interviews to Spanish media outlets on Tuesday and, in a chat with Catalan publication Sport, the Frenchman outlined the thought process behind Valverde's sacking in January.

He revealed they began to consider a change of coach after 0-0 Clasico draw at home to Real Madrid on December 18, with the former left-back claiming he and his colleagues had identified "many players weren't satisfied nor working hard and there was also an internal communication problem".

But Messi, who is rarely at the centre of controversy at the club, has called Abidal out over his comments, telling him he should name individuals rather than tar everyone with the same brush.

Writing on his official Instagram account and specifically highlighting a section of Abidal's quotes, Messi said: "I honestly don't like to do 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 are not playing well.

"Those responsible for the area of ​​sports management must also assume their responsibilities and especially for the decisions they make.

"Finally, I think that when talking about players we should give names, because if not we are all getting dirtied and feeding things that are said but aren't true."

Barca are next in action on Thursday in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals against Athletic Bilbao – coach Quique Setien is due to address the media in his usual pre-match news conference on Wednesday, with the comments of Abidal and Messi likely to be high on the agenda.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu does not believe axed head coach Ernesto Valverde was treated unfairly despite admitting holding discussions with several prospective replacements while he was still in his post.

Barca unveiled ex-Real Betis boss Quique Setien as Valverde's successor on Tuesday, concluding a tumultuous few days at Camp Nou.

Valverde parted ways with the club amid mounting pressure on the back of last week's Supercopa de Espana defeat to Atletico Madrid, even though he won LaLiga in both his completed seasons at the helm and sat joint top alongside Real Madrid this time around.

"Last year there were a lot of requests for him to not continue and I personally always believed in him," Bartomeu said of Valverde, speaking alongside Setien at a news conference.

"I liked how he was as a person, as a coach, he had the confidence of the club. We decided to continue with him in this project.

"The only thing is, as I said before, in recent weeks there was a dynamic [that was] not very good, it wasn't new to him. It's a collective job – we spoke to find solutions and after speaking we decided a few days ago the best thing for a boost to the team was a change in coach, that allows us to handle the second half of the season on a high.

"We're doing well in the league and champions league, I like what Ernesto Valverde did a lot, but it was the moment to make the change for a boost.

"I want to thank Ernesto. He is a great person with great values. We're friends with him, we had a great relationship with him and a lot of respect for him."

News broke over the weekend that Barcelona sporting director Eric Abidal held talks with his old team-mate Xavi over replacing Valverde.

Xavi remains with Qatari club Al Sadd, although Bartomeu suggested Barca's search for a new coach went beyond the club great and Setien.

"Abidal has been in touch with everyone talking about future and plans and he will explain what's gone on, without names," he said.

"No names bar one has come up and been public, because that's not our style. He's been working to find coaches and speaking with them.

"He's brought Setien, who we like very much."

Abidal himself added: "I'm not going to just talk about Xavi. When it comes to taking decisions, the board knows that answers are needed. Every manager has his DNA and decisions. They're all different.

"Setien is here because we like his way of working and his style. It's something we like, and in football we know a lot can change, but we have full confidence in the coach and the staff.

"From what I've seen in first day of training, there's a lot of changes. I think we can reach our objectives with him. I respect all the coaches I spoke to, but we had to take a decision and I think the perfect coach for us is Setien."

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