Lionel Messi 'could leave Barcelona through the back door'
Lionel Messi's Barcelona future has again been thrown into doubt amid fresh turmoil at the club after the attacker did not show at training on Monday morning, with former Blaugrana attacker Hristo Stoichkov suggesting the Argentine could leave the Camp Nou "through the back door."
While Barca claimed Messi had missed Monday's traditional Christmas open-training session due to him suffering from gastroenteritis, it was widely reported in the Catalan and Spanish press that the 27-year-old had twice rowed with coach Luis Enrique since returning from his winter break at home in Argentina.
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This included an apparently heated discussion between the pair at Anoeta on Sunday evening when the Blaugrana boss decided to leave Messi out of his starting XI, and the team lost 1-0 to David Moyes' Real Sociedad side.
Despite signing a new long-term contract just last summer, Messi has not always seemed content at the Camp Nou through recent times.
Just last November he hinted that he would decide on his future at the end of the current campaign, with Chelsea and Manchester City named as potential destinations in the Madrid media.
In a step reported by Madrid-based AS as a potential sign of a wish to leave Barca, Messi followed Chelsea's official Instagram account on Monday, as well as those of Blues players' Cesc Fabregas and Filipe Luis.
It was also noted that the 99 accounts followed by the Argentine also include just two other clubs -- his current side and Manchester City, who have also been previously linked with a big money move for the four time Ballon d'Or winner.
Speaking on radio show Al Primer Toque, former Barca attacker Stoichkov claimed the club's poor treatment of its superstar was to blame for current events, saying the Catalan outfit had regularly been unable to handle big-name non-Catalan players.
"They have not known how to look after Messi," Stoichkov said. "Tell me any foreign player who has not ended up leaving Barca through the back door."
The ex-Bulgaria international said that neither Messi nor Neymar, who was also allowed return late from their winter break and then left out of the starting XI in Anoeta, were to blame for the defeat.
"Messi and Neymar are not the guilty parties, but those who gave them holidays," Stoichkov said. "All players should be treated equally. If you give two days extra holidays, then play them and they get injured, that's a disaster."
The Messi speculation is unfolding amid a situation of institutional chaos at the Camp Nou, with sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta having been fired after criticising club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, and his assistant and recently retired defender Carles Puyol then apparently resigning in sympathy.
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"For me Bartomeu is not a president, he is a civil servant," Stoichkov said. "He was parachuted into the job because a coward [previous president Sandro Rosell] left. The only thing he understands is basketball, he knows little about football."
Messi had tried to play down the situation by releasing a statement on Facebook apologising to those children who had attended the open session he missed on Monday.
"I would have liked to be at the Christmas training session," the statement read. "I never miss it, but these setbacks cannot be controlled. I hope the dreams of every child come true."