Messi takes aim at Barcelona board after players willingly accept 70 per cent salary cut

By Sports Desk March 30, 2020

Lionel Messi has taken aim at senior figures behind the scenes at Barcelona following confirmation of a massive wage cut to help the club during the coronavirus pandemic.

It was confirmed on Monday that players have agreed to reduce salaries by 70 per cent and make further financial contributions to ensure that all club employees are able to take home the full value of their wages during Spain's state of emergency.

The news came following reports of a disagreement between senior Barca players and club directors over the degree of wage reduction.

Club captain Messi issued a statement on behalf of the players, which was soon shared by other members of the first-team squad, in which he insisted they had always been happy to reduce their pay in order to help the club and its staff during the nationwide lockdown, with LaLiga under indefinite suspension while Spain attempts to arrest the spread of COVID-19.

The message accused those in charge of Barca of placing the players under unfair levels of scrutiny while negotiations over wage cuts continued.

The statement, shared via Instagram, said: "A lot has been written and spoken about the first team of Barcelona in terms of the salaries of the players during this period of a state of emergency.

"Before anything else, we want to clarify that our will has always been to apply a reduction in the salary that we receive, because we understand perfectly that we're going through an exceptional situation and we are the first who have ALWAYS helped the club when we have been asked to do so.

"This includes many times we have done so through our own initiative, at other moments when we have thought it necessary or important.

"It doesn't stop surprising us that from within the club there were those who will try to put us under the magnifying glass and try to add pressure to do something that we always knew we would do.

"In fact, the agreement was delayed for a few days simply because we were looking for a formula to help the club and also its staff in such difficult times.

"For our part, the moment has come to announce that, aside from the 70 per cent reduction of our salary during the state of emergency, we will also make contributions so that club employees can collect 100 per cent of their salary while this situation lasts.

"If we didn't speak until now, it was because the priority for us was to find real solutions to help the club, but also those who were most affected by this situation.

"We don't want to say goodbye without sending a loving greeting and a lot of strength to all the fans who are finding things difficult in these hard times, as well as all those who are patiently waiting in their homes for the end of this crisis.

"Very soon, we're going to get through this and we will all do it together."

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    Although he didn't know it at the time, March 2017 was a momentous month in the career of Mohammed Salisu, the Ghanaian centre-back who is now interesting many of the world's biggest clubs.

    In the town of Nsawam, south Ghana, the African Talent Football Academy (ATFA) first began operating, coaching hopeful young footballers who dreamed of a career in Europe.

    With a brand new facility – comprising of pitches and a club house that included a common area, dining space and accommodation – and connections to European clubs, the ATFA began to mark itself as potential gateway for Ghanaian youngsters chasing a better future.

    Just six months after opening, the ATFA had its trailblazer, their first 'graduate'. Director Fran Castano travelled with one teenager to Spain.

    Salisu was signed then and there – his journey to the top had begun.

    Destined for the top

    Life at the ATFA didn't start particularly well for Salisu.

    "I remember my first time meeting him – he came without his boots and was late. I was very, very angry and I was close to telling him to go home," Castano, speaking to Stats Perform News, recalled. It proved a wise decision to hold that thought, however.

    "He took some boots from the goalkeeper and after 10 minutes playing we saw something different. I talked to him and told him that if he can be serious and work, I promised him in half year I could send him to Spain."

    Sure enough, in October 2017 Salisu was signed by Real Valladolid, with the ATFA earning a small fee and a percentage of any future sale. That could be cashed in sooner rather than later as well, with reports in Spain suggesting Rennes are very close to completing a deal in the region of his €12million release clause.

    That would be considered a significant coup for the French side, as Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Atletico Madrid are all said to have considered a move for Salisu in the past six months.

    It's even claimed the latter were willing to pay €11m, but curiously wouldn't stretch to the full release clause. It's an oversight they could come to regret.

    "I told him he would make it [to the top]," says Castano, who previously held many roles in youth coaching and analytics for the Niger and Mauritania national teams, Real Jaen, Leganes and Hearts of Oak, Ghana's biggest club, before setting up the ATFA.

    "You always have doubt because it's not only about talent. To come and live in Europe was a big change for him, but I knew he would make it [on the talent side] because I saw his level compared with others in Spain at the same age and the way he can develop. You could see from the beginning he was different. The body, the technique, the winning mentality, the confidence and how he developed faster than anybody. If you increased the challenge, he increased his level."

    Persistence and a friend's trust lead to vindication

    Castano estimates Salisu played just 10 youth matches for Pucela before being promoted to their B team in the third tier, and then at the start of this season he became an undisputed starter for the senior side – indeed, he's one of just four defenders to play all 27 LaLiga matches in 2019-20.

    A former student of sport performance analysis at the University of Granada, Castano's pride in Salisu is obvious – joining Valladolid wasn't just a big deal for the defender, but also vindication for Castano.

    "I offered Salisu to a lot of teams, nobody gave us a chance. Nobody knew Salisu or me. I was just starting and it wasn't easy," he said. "I was lucky. My friend Victor Fernandez, who was a great striker in LaLiga for Valladolid and Villarreal, was coaching Valladolid's Under-19s. I called him and told him about Salisu. He told me he trusted what I say and my eye for scouting players.

    "After one training exercise, just a few minutes, he [Victor] told me: 'Fran, are sure you know the kind of player you have?' He said he [Salisu] could be a very important defender in professional football. I had thought so, but I wasn't that sure of it until he told me."

    Salisu's adaptation to LaLiga was impressive. In October, less than two months after his top-flight debut, he was being championed as a "star" on the league's official Twitter account after impressing in a 0-0 draw with Atletico.

    Jordi Masip has been a fixture behind Salisu in goal. The experienced goalkeeper applauded the youngster's capacity to learn and is convinced a big future lies in wait.

    "He's a player with an enviable physicality, he gets very fast when it comes to interceptions," Masip told Stats Perform News. "He's very young and he can grow a lot. He's a person that wants to improve and listen to us.

    "He has always had a little difficulty with the language, but he is adapting very well, he understands everything, he asks questions and his adaptation is going well. To be so young, his characteristics are very good, he still can give far more than he is already giving."

    A dominant defender

    It's easy to argue that Pucela would be in even worse shape this season if they didn't have Salisu. After all, when LaLiga resumes they will start in 15th place, just four points above the bottom three.

    But being in a team that has to spend longer stretches of time defending, Salisu's quality really shines through and it's clear he's making a difference, with only seven teams – all of whom are in the top half of the table – conceding fewer than Valladolid this term.

    When watching Salisu, you really get the impression he loves defending. A real unit with long, gangly legs, he has a habit of pulling off blocks or last-ditch tackles that one wouldn't expect.

    His 67 aerials won is bettered by just eight defenders, while Sevilla's Diego Carlos – widely regarded as one of the standout centre-backs in LaLiga this term – is the only player to make more headed clearances (71) than Salisu (67).

    Diego Carlos – and every other defender, for that matter – trails in Salisu's wake with respect to total clearances, however. The 21-year-old has completed 136, with the experienced Raul Albiol (131) boasting the next most.

    Salisu also ranks very high in terms of blocks with 22. Gabriel (26) is the solitary defender to have halted more shots. His 31 interceptions is also a decent figure, though the league-high among defenders of 48 is a fair way ahead of him.

    What's clear is Salisu's enjoying a wonderful season. Despite his age and lack of experience, he is marking himself out as a consistent and committed performer.

    While his technical attributes may not yet be at the required level for, say, Barcelona, he models himself on Blaugrana centre-back Samuel Umtiti and has already shown himself to be a quick learner on the pitch.

    Either way, one can certainly see why Diego Simeone and Atletico are said to be keen, but time appears to be running out for El Cholo. With Rennes seemingly circling, a defensive jewel could be about to slip through the fingertips of LaLiga's elite.

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    Vidal continues to be linked with a Barca exit, the veteran Chilean star a reported target for Serie A side Inter.

    The 33-year-old has insisted he is happy at Camp Nou, where he arrived from Bayern Munich in 2018.

    Amid the ongoing speculation, former Boca midfielder Medel claims Vidal wants to move to La Bombonera in Buenos Aires.

    "Arturo would like to play in Boca with me or without me," Medel, who played for Boca between 2009 and 2011, told Radio Continental.

    "He loves Boca and follows them on social networks. He is the only one who follows Argentina and is dying to go. Boca have a magnitude in Europe that you cannot imagine."

    It comes as Inter sporting director Piero Ausilio distanced the Italian club from Vidal, who worked with Nerazzurri head coach Antonio Conte during the pair's time together at Juventus.

    "I don't feel like making any final considerations, let alone for Vidal. Right now he's not an opportunity for us. We already have a very strong central midfield," Ausilio told Sky Sport Italia.

    "[Christian] Eriksen arrived in January and, like anyone else who arrives in January, he needs time, not just to settle on a technical level.

    "I've never seen a player who comes to Serie A and immediately makes the difference.

    "Think of [Michel] Platini and [Zinedine] Zidane, they're the first two examples that spring to mind."

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    ROUND-UP

    - Le10Sport claims Paris Saint-Germain have made a €60m offer for Lazio star Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. Lazio, however, are reportedly set to reject the bid.

    - Staying in the French capital and Sky Sport in Italy reports PSG and Inter have reached an agreement over the transfer of Mauro Icardi. The Argentina international forward has spent the 2019-20 season on loan at PSG. The Ligue 1 champions are reportedly set to pay €50m plus €7m in bonuses.

    Arsenal, Chelsea and United are interested in Juventus and Italy international Federico Bernardeschi, claims Gazzetta dello Sport.

    - Sky Sport Italia journalist Gianluca Di Marzio says United are eyeing Monaco forward Pietro Pellegri. The 19-year-old Italian has been plagued by injuries in France.

    Juve want to bring Chelsea forward Pedro to Turin, according to Calciomercato. The Spanish veteran, who is set to become a free agent, worked with Maurizio Sarri during the Italian coach's time at Stamford Bridge.

    - Sport reports Martin Odegaard's future at Real Madrid depends on head coach Zinedine Zidane. Odegaard has flourished during his two-year loan spell at Real Sociedad and whether the Norwegian returns to the Basque Country remains to be seen.

    Arthur remains committed to staying at Barcelona amid Juventus links, Mundo Deportivo says. Juve have been keen on bringing Arthur to the club, with Miralem Pjanic tipped to leave for Barca. However, Arthur is happy at Camp Nou and sees Spanish football more compatible with his style.

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