By Tim Hanlon
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique has described reports of a bust-up with Lionel Messi as “inaccurate and ill-intentioned” and said he has the backing of all the players in his squad.
Talk has been rife of disagreements and heated exchanges between the pair while rumours of a move to Chelsea have grown with Catalan radio saying the London club has contacted the players’ father and agent Jorge.
RAC1 radio claimed Premier League leaders Chelsea would be prepared to pay Messi’s 250 million ($295.80 million) buy-out clause.
“I have the same relationship with all the players since the start of the season. Obviously we know each other better now but there is no change in the relationship,” Luis Enrique told a news conference ahead of Thursday’s King’s Cup last 16 clash with Elche.
“I feel I have the support of the club and the players. I have no doubt about that. I continue my work with the same professionalism as before and I am not here to deny stories.
“I am not going to comment about all the different media reports about what has supposed to have taken place. There are so many varied reports which are inaccurate and ill intentioned,” added the coach.
Messi and Luis Enrique were reported to have had heated arguments in training last Friday and again after Sunday’s defeat at Real Sociedad, where Messi was unhappy about being left out of the starting lineup.
Luis Enrique felt the player was not ready to start, having only returned to training on Friday following his Christmas break.
On Monday, Messi then failed to attend a training session open to the public and a hospital visit to see sick children due to illness.
The fact that on the same day he started following Chelsea on Instagram was interpreted as another indication of his state of mind.
“Messi is the best player in the world. I have said it so many times that there is no point repeating it,” added Luis Enrique.
Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu gave Luis Enrique his backing, saying the coach had “a project in place” and that Messi was the team’s “leader”.
“He is rebuilding a team and working with the players. He is the right man,” Bartomeu told a news conference where he also announced presidential elections for the end of this season due to a boardroom crisis.
“Messi is the best player in the world without any doubts.
“Before the season started I said that we would build a new team and that the leader would be Messi. He is our leader, he has a contract and we are happy with him.”