Martino wants focus back on football
ESPN FC Extra Time
Gerardo Martino says he hopes Barcelona fans are back just talking about football after Wednesday’s Copa del Rey quarterfinal second leg against Levante at the Camp Nou.
Given Barca won 4-1 in last week’s first game at Levante’s Ciutat de Valencia stadium, most attention ahead of the tie has focused on unfolding boardroom drama, which has seen Sandro Rosell step down as club president amid a court investigation into the signing of Brazilian attacker Neymar in the summer.
Martino sidestepped questions on the issue at his pregame news conference, saying he would be happier if those around the club concentrated more on on-pitch matters.
“Tomorrow is a good way to show that we just focus on football,” Martino said. “If we can have our fans just talking about football, about what happens on the pitch, that would be much better. For me these are institutional matters, I prefer to stay away from them. I am just happy to be able to have Neymar here, happy that he plays for Barcelona.”
Asked about Barca players including Xavi Hernandez and Dani Alves having voiced their disquiet at the club making public all the details of Neymar’s transfer -- in an attempt to show the deal was all above board -- Martino admitted it was the first time in his years in football he had experienced such a thing.
“I am going to avoid saying what I think about the situation but, yes, I would say that it seems quite strange to me that to justify a transfer you need to show the player’s contract,” he said. “It is something I have never experienced. If something had to be made public, we hope it was for the good of Barcelona.”
Meanwhile, Wednesday’s game at the Camp Nou should see Andres Iniesta return to action for the first time since being substituted at half-time of Jan. 11’s 0-0 La Liga draw at co-leaders Atletico Madrid after suffering a knock to his left knee. Martino said he had been keen to give Iniesta a little extra time to recover to ensure he came back fully ready.
“It took a little bit longer. It is two weeks since Atletico Madrid game,” he said. “This seems to us a good game for him to come back into the team.”
Martino has given Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Alves the night off and further rotations should see Jose Pinto, Marc Bartra, Sergi Roberto and Cristian Tello all start. Carles Puyol, who was substituted with a knock during last week’s first leg, and fit again Martin Montoya and Alex Song have also been included in the squad for the return.
“There is a feeling that this is over but tomorrow’s game needs a lot of concentration,” Martino said. “We must ensure the opponent has no chance to come back into it. This game is important not just for tomorrow, but for all that is coming. We are happy that Andres, Puyi [Puyol], Martin and Alex are completely recovered.”