Focus finally back on the pitch at Barcelona

Posted by Dermot Ledwith

Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images

Off-the-field matters overshadowed everything at FC Barcelona last week. That is until the ball got rolling at the Camp Nou on Sunday night for the home game against Malaga and football became the centre of attention as Barca ran out 3-0 winners.

In a country that sometimes places too much emphasis on off-the-field politics and holds up the presidents of its sporting institutions as some of its most newsworthy figures, the name of Sandro Rosell was all over the Spanish headlines in the buildup to this game.

The resignation of the Barca president on Thursday may be discussed for some time in the wake of a lawsuit brought against him by a club member over the transfer of Neymar. Bizarrely, that lawsuit has been withdrawn by the fan, who did not want the club to be mired in a long legal case that could affect matters on the pitch.

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On one of the Sunday night postgame analysis programmes on Spanish TV, one football journalist made the claim that the Barca players would have obviously been affected by the whole Rosell saga before the match.

Straightaway, the one ex-pro on the panel set the record straight. He pointed out that the way Barca had gone about their task against Malaga proved that statement to be wrong. The former pro went on to honestly reflect that players rarely cared what shenanigans are occurring with the directors and money men off the pitch.

There was certainly no evidence of anything amiss as Barca forensically dismantled a brave Malaga with the usual brand of brilliant passing football. All the talking points were on the pitch before the game as Xavi Hernandez was given an ovation by the crowd for completing his 700th match last week.

The brain of the Barca midfield went on to complete 92 of his 96 pass attempts, many of them in advanced positions around the Malaga area, and was key in the win before being cheered from the pitch and declaring that he wants to finish his career at the club.

If you were to believe some of the Madrid press that were lapping up the Rosell story last week, the affair, which revealed that Neymar is earning rather more than was first thought, is likely to cause a huge split in a Barca dressing room.

This seems unlikely when we are talking about some of the most levelheaded and motivated athletes in the world. The Barca squad has displayed its unity on many occasions in times of great triumph and defeat over the past few years, and it smacks of clutching at straws in the capital.

Tata Martino said as much after the game: "Over the years, the players have had to face many important and serious matters, not institutional, but health issues affecting coaches and players. They understand that the response is to not talk but show what they can do on the pitch. It has been a difficult week, and they have been very professional."

New president Josep Maria Bertomeu did say that Lionel Messi was sad at the departure of Rosell. Whether that can be taken at face value only Messi honestly knows. Far more importantly, Bertomeu confirmed that the player is "not for sale, and we will sit down soon with his father" to discuss his future in the wake of reported interest from PSG.

Messi was again brilliant against Malaga and turned provider for Pedro and Alexis, who got a goal apiece; the other was scored by Gerard Pique from a corner. Alexis and Pedro now have 12 goals each in the league and are firing on all cylinders in Neymar's absence. Surely it's only matter of time before Messi, who has eight goals, joins them on similar figures.

Yet more important news emerging from the Camp Nou pitch on Sunday was the return, after more than a year out with a knee injury, of Dutch youngster Ibrahim Afellay. Martino likes the look of Afellay and gave him five minutes from the bench, but he will get more chances in the future.

Victor Valdes was also outstanding and made important saves to keep Malaga at bay. The fact that he did not get on well with Rosell and had refused to speak with the former president in recent months may have contributed to his decision to leave the club at the end of the season. Again only he knows.

What is clear is that all the news coming out of the Camp Nou was positive for Barca. Contrary to what many journalists would want you to believe, the resignation of an administrator at the club, albeit the most important one, will not be affecting the performances of this side any time soon.


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