Martino backs Neymar, rounds on critics
Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino has suggested that Neymar will play a central attacking role in Wednesday’s Champions League group game against Celtic at the Camp Nou, while revealing that he is becoming increasingly fed up with some of the media coverage of his team.
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Barca are already through to the knockout phase but need a point to ensure top spot and a seeding for the last 16, so Martino is expected to name a strong side. Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta should return having missed Friday’s routine 4-1 Copa del Rey win at Cartagena, while Cristian Tello is also back after a month out with an ankle injury.
With Lionel Messi injured and Cesc Fabregas suspended, Neymar is the logical choice to play up front, but the Brazilian comes into the game with just two goals in his last nine Barca appearances.
Martino said that on balance the 65 million euro summer signing -- although that figure is the matter of some dispute -- was playing very well, and he was sure he would be back on the scoresheet soon.
"You do not analyse a player just due to their goals, or just due to their work for the team, or just due to their assists," he told a news conference ahead of the Celtic game. "Neymar is a player who has all assets in his game, at the moment the ball might not be going in for him, but the goals will come. He is not a goalscorer like Leo, who is so easy in front of goal, but he can score goals for us -- just like Alexis [Sanchez], Pedro [Rodriguez] and Cesc."
Asked if he felt Friday’s easy Copa win has lifted the mood after previous consecutive defeats to Ajax and Athletic Bilbao had provoked plenty of media gloom and doom, Martino said quite testily that he and his players were keen to play better for themselves, not to react to outside criticism.
"We did not feel especially under pressure," he said. "Any team which loses two consecutive games, the alarm will go off. We played Cartagena knowing where we had come from, and how the last games had gone. When we get more consistency in our game, we will for sure get closer to our best form. We are obliged to improve our performances, for ourselves, so we can fight on all fronts. A group of players and coaches always work for themselves, not the image that they give out."
Amid the doom and gloom Barca had appeared keen to project an image of unity themselves, with the club publicising a ‘bonding’ squad barbecue after training on Monday. Martino said he was surprised the event had attracted so much attention.
"It took up a lot of space in the media," he said. "It was not so important, but we enjoyed it, it was nice to share some time together at the barbecue. We just thought it was a good moment to share it, and we did it. You see more about the unity of a group when you lose. Bad moments can strengthen the group."
Such a spotlight shone on all aspects of the club was something he had to deal with, Martino said, although he suggested he would prefer a quieter life.
"I have come to work in probably one of the most important clubs in the world, if not the most important," he said. "There is a lot of publicity, everyone knows what happens, as far as India. You have to live with it, not think of changing it, and do your best possible. You [journalists covering the club] are all here for life. The day I leave I will go back home, which is further away."