Pep Guardiola has again insisted he does not want Lionel Messi to leave Barcelona despite speculation he could join Manchester City at the end of the season.

A turbulent week at Camp Nou on and off the pitch has seen Messi's future come under scrutiny.

The club captain called out first-team technical secretary Eric Abidal on social media after the former Barca defender suggested some players had downed tools during Ernesto Valverde's final weeks as head coach.

Messi's response, in which he accused Abidal of "dirtying" the squad and urged him to name names in his criticism, has led to talk that he could utilise his option to have his contract cancelled at the end of 2019-20 and walk away from Barca for free.

Thursday's Copa del Rey exit at the hands of Athletic Bilbao has only heightened the uncertainty around Messi's future, with City reportedly monitoring the situation with a view to making him an offer.

Guardiola has always previously maintained he would not bring Messi to Etihad Stadium, though, and the former Barca boss made it clear again on Friday that he expects the 32-year-old to finish his career at Camp Nou.

"Messi is a player for Barcelona," Guardiola told reporters ahead of Sunday's Premier League game against West Ham. 

"He will stay there. That is my wish. I am not going to talk about players at another club.

"I think he will finish his career there."

Barcelona have been branded "a club of clowns" by Christophe Dugarry after a dismal week for the club culminated in Copa del Rey elimination.

A 1-0 quarter-final loss to Athletic Bilbao at San Mames on Thursday was the latest blow for Barca in a turbulent period.

After failing to sign an attacker before the end of the January transfer deadline, Ousmane Dembele suffered a hamstring tear that requires surgery and is expected to miss the rest of campaign.

Sporting director Eric Abidal also gave an interview in which he cited a lack of effort being put in by some players as a motivating factor for the dismissal of Ernesto Valverde, which drew the ire of Lionel Messi.

There have consequently been reports Messi could leave Camp Nou at the end of the season, and Dugarry – who spent six months at Barca in the 1997-98 season – was scathing in his criticism of the way the club has been run in recent years.

"It's a club of clowns. Everything is done backwards," Dugarry said on RMC Sport.

"They buy [Philippe] Coutinho, Dembele, they buy guys and then sell them. You get the impression there is no project in this club.

"At every transfer window there is a problem. They've recruited very badly since the departures of Xavi and [Andres] Iniesta. They've spent loads.

"And above all they have a very bad image. There are far too many people who do not have the elegance, the class that there should be at a club of this standing.

"It's really a club that has no class."

Jordi Alba joined Lionel Messi in calling out Barcelona sporting director Eric Abidal for "throwing s***" within the club.

Abidal this week said in an interview with Catalan publication Sport that Barca took the decision to sack Ernesto Valverde after he and his colleagues identified "many players weren't satisfied nor working hard and there was also an internal communication problem".

Messi was disappointed the former left-back chose to tar all members of the squad with the same brush and did not specify names in his remarks.

Barca boss Quique Setien said on Wednesday the six-time Ballon d'Or winner remains happy at the club, with speculation mounting that he could opt to leave at the end of the season.

However, a 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals on Thursday was the latest blow for the club, who this week announced Ousmane Dembele will undergo surgery on a hamstring problem that is expected to rule him out of the rest of the campaign.

Speaking after the game at San Mames, Alba followed Messi's lead and claimed Abidal should have known better.

"This club gets enough s*** thrown at it from the outside so we shouldn't be throwing s*** at ourselves. That is the line to follow," said Alba.

"Abidal was a player, he is loved by the fans and that's why he should know what it's like inside the dressing room and how players feel."

Sergio Busquets headed the ball into his own net in the 93rd minute in Bilbao but Alba was pleased with the club's display.

"I think he had a very good game, one of the best of the season. It's a shame we lost at the last minute, but that's football," he said.

"I'm very proud of the team, especially for the level of the game. We have to continue like this.

"It's clearly the right path, we only missed the win. We played well, with possession and very clear openings. The result is a pity."

A return to Barcelona could be on the cards for Adama Traore.

Wolves star Traore has taken the Premier League and Europe by storm with his performances this season.

Barcelona's LaLiga rivals Real Madrid are also reportedly interested.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA AND MADRID EYE TRAORE

Barcelona are plotting a move to bring Wolves star Adama Traore back to Camp Nou, according to the Daily Mail.

LaLiga rivals Real Madrid are also interested in Spanish winger Traore, who left Barca in 2015.

Wolves are set to command a big transfer fee for Traore amid links to Manchester City and Liverpool, having signed the 24-year-old from Middlesbrough two years ago.

 

ROUND-UP

- Gazzetta dello Sport claims Manchester United are interested in trying to prise Lionel Messi from Barcelona. There are doubts over Messi's future following his row with sporting director Eric Abidal. City, Paris Saint-Germain, Inter and Juventus have also been mentioned as possible destinations for the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

United have given the green light to sell Paul Pogba, says The Sun. Linked to Madrid and Juventus, the Red Devils are ready to part with Pogba for £150million.

Juventus and Paulo Dybala are working on a contract extension, reports Tuttosport. Tied to Juve until 2022, the Serie A champions want to keep the in-form attacker until 2025.

- L'Equipe reports Thiago Silva wants to stay at PSG but the Ligue 1 champions want to offload the 35-year-old defender in an attempt to free up some of the wage budget.

United have been turned off by Lautaro Martinez's £94m (€110.7m) release clause, according to The Times. The Inter striker has been heavily linked to Barca as a long-term replacement for Luis Suarez.

- The Telegraph says Leicester City are leading the race to sign Liverpool's Adam Lallana, who is out of contract at the end of the season. Tottenham, Arsenal and West Ham have also reportedly been tracking the England midfielder.

- According to Fotomac, Galatasaray striker Radamel Falcao is wanted by Saudi Arabian giants Al Hilal. Falcao only moved to Istanbul at the start of the season.

Barcelona head coach Quique Setien believes the club have taken a step forward, despite crashing out of the Copa del Rey on Thursday.

Inaki Williams' 93rd-minute goal condemned last season's runners-up Barca to a 1-0 defeat at Athletic Bilbao in the quarter-finals.

Barca have lost back-to-back away games under Setien, who replaced Ernesto Valverde last month, however the Spanish boss maintains the LaLiga champions are heading in the right direction.

"Taking into account what has happened to us in other games from home, we have taken a step forward in terms of what we have to improve," Setien told reporters.

"It is the same as ever; there are days when you have one chance and put it in, and there are days where you have ten and can't do it. There isn't a reasonable explanation.

"I have never known what to blame it on. Their goal came from a play that wasn't dangerous. There are things that can't be controlled and this is one of them.

"Everything went well, except for the result. I am happy with the team's work."

Setien added: "We controlled the second half. Marc-Andre [ter Stegen] didn't have any saves to make and it was a shame because we had the game under control.

"We created several clear chances and they got the goal when there was no time for us to react. We looked good and we were the better team.

"We didn't win but it will come. It is a pity the competition doesn't give us the chance for revenge but we must be positive despite not deserving to be eliminated."

Barca – three points behind LaLiga leaders Real Madrid – travel to Real Betis on Sunday.

Real Madrid and Barcelona exited the Copa del Rey on the same date for the first time since 1955 following shock defeats.

LaLiga giants Madrid and Barca both crashed out in the quarter-finals on Thursday, stunned by Basque pair Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao respectively.

Madrid were upstaged 4-3 by visiting Sociedad at the Santiago Bernabeu, while Lionel Messi's Barca – runners-up for six successive seasons – conceded a 93rd-minute goal in a 1-0 loss away to Athletic.

It is the first time in 65 years Madrid and Barca have been eliminated on the same day – the pair ousted by Sevilla and Athletic in the 1955 semi-finals.

LaLiga leaders Madrid and Barca will now turn their attention to league and Champions League honours.

Madrid – three points clear atop LaLiga – face Manchester City in the Champions League last 16, while Barca meet Napoli.

Gerard Pique said Barcelona's dressing room was united despite the LaLiga champions suffering a crushing blow in an already troubling week, eliminated by Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey.

A 1-0 defeat to Athletic saw Barcelona knocked out of the Copa in the quarter-finals on Thursday, with that familiar route to silverware now cut off to the 30-time winners.

The setback followed criticism from director of football Eric Abidal, who questioned the team's effort under former head coach Ernesto Valverde, which led to a rebuke from star man and captain Lionel Messi.

"It's not time to air the dirty washing. The dressing room is fully united," Barca defender Pique told reporters. "Elimination is a big blow but we said in the dressing room that we've taken a step forward and played well, despite all the noise that's been generated."

He added, according to several Spanish newspapers: "We have to focus on playing and winning. We have to return to winning ways. The players have the ability to keep winning and we are working on that every day, finding a better feel for the game."

With LaLiga and the Champions League still in their sights, Pique said of Barcelona, who are three points behind Real Madrid: "There is enough confidence and talent to be able to win the two remaining titles."

Pique hobbled off in the second half in Bilbao with what initially appeared to be a groin injury, but he said the blow was to his adductor and "not serious".

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu said Barcelona looked to be on the right track, after a match they could easily have won.

Messi and Antoine Griezmann missed clear chances before Inaki Williams headed the winner deep in second-half stoppage time.

"The first thing is to congratulate Athletic, who will be in the semi-finals, but I also thank the Barca fans who have come and I also congratulate the Barca players because they fought, dominated and played well. [Athletic] have only had one chance and they scored," Bartomeu told Barca TV.

He said that he appreciated Barcelona's "performance and ambition".

"The ambition and the attitude that I saw on the pitch encourages me with a view to LaLiga and the Champions League, so successes can come," Bartomeu added.

"I repeat that we had clear occasions, such as those of Griezmann and Messi, and we dominated. Now we focus on LaLiga and the Champions League, but I want to emphasise the ambition, the attitude and the work done. We deserved to go through."

Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets said, according to AS: "It is a sad day for everyone. We have two competitions that we have to keep fighting in. This does not stop, we have to continue, we have done things well and we have had the game quite under control. In an isolated play at the end we are out of the Copa."

Barcelona stumbled to a new setback in their troubled week as Inaki Williams' header in added time dumped last season's beaten finalists out of the Copa del Rey.

A hard-fought quarter-final appeared destined for extra time until Williams applied enough of a touch to Ibai Gomez's inswinging cross from the right flank to send the ball beyond Marc-Andre ter Stegen and into the net.

The winner in the third minute of stoppage time saw Athletic through to the last four and, with Real Madrid surprisingly beaten at home by Real Sociedad just hours earlier, it means neither of Spain's two heavyweight clubs are left standing.

Lionel Messi, who had made the headlines in the lead-up to the game for criticising director of football Eric Abidal, had Barca's best chance, only to be denied by Unai Simon's outstretched left leg late in the second half.

The Athletic goalkeeper had also denied substitute Antoine Griezmann but, for the first time in seven seasons, the Catalan club will not be involved in the final of the competition.

Lionel Messi was given the chance to do his talking on the pitch on Thursday after he was named in the Barcelona starting line-up for their Copa del Rey clash with Athletic Bilbao.

Messi made headlines this week when criticising Eric Abidal, the Spanish club's director of football, for suggesting some Barca players were not working hard enough under previous boss Ernesto Valverde.

The Argentina international called out Abidal for his comments in the media, telling the Frenchman he should name the individuals who were not pulling their weight.

Such a reaction has raised questions over Messi's future at Camp Nou, though the 32-year-old was selected in the XI for the quarter-final tie against Athletic.

Ansu Fati was also chosen in the team, the teenager keeping his place after scoring both goals in Barcelona's 2-1 LaLiga win over Levante at the weekend.

Head coach Quique Setien made just one change from that side, bringing in Sergi Roberto to replace Antoine Griezmann.

Even when you consider the well-reported exit clause in his contract, until recently the idea of Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona for another club was virtually unthinkable.

But this week friction has started to appear, with Messi publicly calling out Barca director of football Eric Abidal for bad-mouthing players in an interview, saying that "many players weren't satisfied nor working hard and there was also an internal communication problem" before Ernesto Valverde's sacking.

Messi's forthright response on Instagram said the "sports management must also assume their responsibilities" and suggested Abidal should name specific players if he is willing to criticise them, otherwise "we are all getting dirtied and feeding things that are said but aren't true".

Barca have since assured – via Spain's sports newspapers – that all is well, the pair have reconciled and Abidal will keep his job, but that is unlikely to dispel concern among supporters, particularly following further reports several other clubs have registered an interest.

Nevertheless, arguably for the first time ever, the prospect of Messi leaving does not seem an impossibility, particularly given a contract clause allows him to leave for free – but where would that leave Barca?

A BRUTAL GENIUS

Declaring Messi important to Barcelona would be an understatement akin to saying the Titanic was big. After all, he's helped them win 34 trophies.

Messi made his breakthrough in the 2004-05 season and his impact has been almost beyond comprehension. If the six-time Ballon d'Or winner isn't the greatest footballer of all-time, good luck making a case for anyone else.

He has gone on to play a role in 864 goals (622 goals, 242 assists) in 711 matches across all competitions, a truly astounding feat.

One gets an even greater perspective of his influence when considering how much of Barca's overall total that equates to.

Across the same period, the Blaugrana have scored 2,241 times, meaning he has had a hand in 39 per cent of all of their goals over a period of almost 16 years – including his first season when he featured on just nine occasions.

Since the 2007-08 campaign, his first with more than 20 involvements, that figure shoots up to 44 per cent – or 804 of Barca's 1,812 goals in that time.

ONE-MAN TEAM?

Given some of the players he has featured alongside, it is probably a step too far to suggest Barca have been a one-man team since Messi made a first-team role his own.

However, there can be little denying he has often carried them and no one else has had a remotely comparable impact.

Over the past 12 seasons, Messi has finished as Barca's leading scorer across all competitions in all but one - 2015-16 when Luis Suarez plundered 59.

His best was that remarkable 2011-12 campaign when he scored 73 goals across all fronts, while a haul of 29 assists took him to 102 involvements - 54 per cent of the team's total.

IRREPLACABLE?

Where do you even start when planning to replace a player who has been directly involved in almost 50 per cent of your club's goals in a 12-and-a-half-year period?

One would hope for Barca's sake they have some form of contingency plan, but even if they do, it's difficult to imagine them being able to buy anyone anywhere near as influential.

Messi is more than a mere footballer – Barca teams for more than a decade have been built with the purpose of getting the best out of him, while he is virtually unrivalled both as a creator and finisher.

Neymar is the obvious candidate to replace Messi when the time comes, as he does offer a similar blend of deadliness and craft, although Barca's financial constraints are well-documented and it's hard to see how they could afford him at the moment, even without Messi's wage.

They may opt to go down the route of signing a more singled-minded attacker, such as Kylian Mbappe or Lautaro Martinez, but again, certainly in the case of the former, affordability may be an issue.

Even if Antoine Griezmann manages to belatedly blossom in Barcelona colours, Messi's eventual departure will leave a gaping chasm that their current squad is unequipped to fill.

Putting together a post-Messi Barca could just be the single most fascinating rebuilding job in football history – but Josep Maria Bartomeu and Abidal will be clinging on to the hope that won't be for another few years yet.

Barcelona have confirmed Ousmane Dembele will have surgery next Tuesday after suffering a rupture to his hamstring.

Dembele sustained the injury in training on Monday, having been stepping up his recovery from a right hamstring problem that has sidelined him since November.

A statement on Tuesday confirmed Dembele suffered a "complete proximal hamstring tear in his right thigh".

The club is still unable to provide any information about a potential return date, though media reports have suggested they do not expect him to play much of a role – if any – in the remainder of the season.

A Barca statement read: "Barcelona player Ousmane Dembele will undergo surgery on Tuesday, February 11 in Turku, Finland, to treat a rupture to the proximal tendon of his right hamstring.

"Once the operation has been concluded, further information will be given regarding his approximate recovery time."

Dembele has only made nine appearances for Barca this season and spent a month out earlier in the campaign with a left hamstring injury.

The 22-year-old arrived from Borussia Dortmund for an initial fee of €105million in August 2017 but his time at Camp Nou has been blighted by injury.

He underwent surgery on his left hamstring one month after joining the club and did not return to action until January 2018.

Dembele suffered another strain in the same thigh four games after making his comeback and spent another month on the sidelines.

At the end of the 2018-19 season, a sprained ankle was followed by a left hamstring strain and a right hamstring injury to restrict his involvement in the team.

New coach Quique Setien had recently spoken of his excitement to have Dembele back in contention after the club failed to bolster their attacking options following a serious injury to Luis Suarez.

However, Barca are said to be confident of securing special dispensation from authorities to bring in reinforcements outside of the transfer window following this latest setback.

Manchester City are reportedly lining up a move for Lionel Messi in a free transfer amid the star's troubles at Barcelona.

Messi, 32, has been involved in a public disagreement with the club's technical secretary Eric Abidal, leading to immediate questions over his future at Camp Nou.

City, and former boss Pep Guardiola, look ready to make their move.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY EYE MESSI FOR FREE AMID BARCELONA TROUBLES

Manchester City will swoop for Messi for free if the star cannot resolve his problems at Barcelona, according to The Sun.

While Messi is contracted until 2021, Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu confirmed last year the Argentina international was free to leave after the 2019-20 season.

Messi worked with Guardiola at Barcelona, with the duo winning three LaLiga titles and two Champions League crowns among numerous other trophies at the club.

ROUND-UP

- There could be major changes coming at Arsenal. The Sun reports Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil are at risk with Arsenal perhaps prepared to sell their stars to finance a spending spree.

- Manchester United and Chelsea are set to go head-to-head in a bid to sign Lyon forward Moussa Dembele at the end of the season, according to The Mirror. Dembele, 23, has scored 12 Ligue 1 goals in 22 matches this season and has been linked with a move to Old Trafford previously.

- Staying in Manchester and City must wait until April to resolve the future of Leroy Sane after the attacker's switch of agent, according to The Telegraph and Bild. Sane is a reported target for Bayern Munich and Manchester City will have to wait to discuss the Germany international's future due to a clause in his deal with his previous agency.

- With Ousmane Dembele facing a long spell on the sidelines, Barcelona are eyeing Girona forward Cristhian Stuani, according to Deportes Cuatro, which reports the 33-year-old Uruguayan has a €20million release clause. Barca would need approval to complete the deal outside the transfer window.

- Could Liverpool have to search for a new back-up goalkeeper? Estadio Deportivo reports Real Betis are considering a move for their former shot-stopper Adrian, who is contracted to the European champions until 2021, with the club holding an option for a further year.

Pep Guardiola warned Barcelona they would need time to readjust when Lionel Messi leaves the club, after Real Madrid's struggles following Cristiano Ronaldo's exit.

Ronaldo left Madrid for Juventus in July 2018 and the Spanish giants battled that season, winning only the Club World Cup and seeing three different coaches at the helm, including the return of Zinedine Zidane.

Manchester City manager Guardiola expects his former club Barca to endure a similar problem when Messi, another all-time great, departs Camp Nou.

"It is inevitable, these players are so transcendent," he told Post United in an interview conducted by Spanish YouTuber DjMariio, via Marca.

"When Messi leaves Barca it will take time to readjust. It is inevitable.

"They score 40-50 goals per season."

Guardiola has continued to enjoy coaching success since leaving Barcelona, a spell at Bayern Munich preceding his move to Manchester.

Already a two-time Premier League winner, Guardiola has another young star in his squad in highly rated midfielder Phil Foden.

Foden has only made two Premier League starts this season, but Guardiola talked up the 19-year-old's talent.

"He will be a bomb," he said.

"There are no clauses here, you have it raw, you have to negotiate with me."

Quique Setien is concerned for Ousmane Dembele though is unsure if Barcelona will have to make signings to replace the injured winger.

Dembele seems set to miss the rest of the season after sustaining a tear in his right hamstring in training on Monday.

The France international had been working his way back from a hamstring issue in the same leg which had kept him out since November.

News of Dembele's injury was somewhat overshadowed by Lionel Messi's public criticism of Barca director Eric Abidal on Tuesday, though the 22-year-old's continued absence leaves Setien short of numbers up top, with Luis Suarez also out.

However, Setien is not convinced Barca, who have Portuguese forward Francisco Trincao joining from July 1, will do further business to replace Dembele.

"These are things that are pending that will be talked about first of all. We are going to see what the diagnosis is for the problem Dembele has, how long he's going to be out," Setien told a news conference ahead of Thursday's Copa del Rey clash with Athletic Bilbao.

"Once we know that and have all the info we'll take decisions. It's true I was very excited to get Ousmane back to help us, this is obviously an unfortunate situation but I've always had problems in my career and what I always try to do is find solutions.

"We'll see if it's going to be a long time out and if we can sign someone, we'll have to wait and see, and if not we'll try to find the path to give the team solidity, consistency and identity that is required to win games.

"We'll always look at things positively and with excitement. I always said I'm going to be happy here and this doesn’t stop me from being happy.

"I'm worried most not about Dembele as a footballer. He's an extraordinary kid who works with intensity and desire to come back. It could be three, four or five months without playing football which is the thing he likes to do the most."

When pressed on Barca's failure to bring in reinforcements up front, Setien said: "Well I'm sure we'll always have 11 players! I'm sure we'll always be competitive as well. In football these things happen.

"But we are going to be competitive with what we have. If we can't sign anyone for any reason, it doesn’t matter, we are going to work with the same excitement and desire, ensuring players that are here are completely committed.

"You can see that today we had another extraordinary training session and are completely focused on the game tomorrow which is what completely bothers us.

"I would like to have more players. If we had known about the injury to Ousmane, I don't think Carles Perez would have left the club. But I'm not going to be crying permanently about things, I need to transmit positivity to my squad."

Zinedine Zidane does not expect Barcelona to be weakened by the off-field unrest that has blighted Real Madrid's LaLiga title rivals this week.

A potentially damaging row has broken out at Camp Nou after Barca star Lionel Messi hit back at director of football Eric Abidal, who suggested some players were not working hard enough prior to Ernesto Valverde's dismissal as coach.

Messi went public with his response in an Instagram post directly referencing Abidal's comments in which he wrote: "When talking about players we should give names, because if not we are all getting dirtied and feeding things that are said but aren't true".

The situation is so serious that former Barca winger Francisco Jose 'Lobo' Carrasco claimed Messi could be on the brink of exiting the club.

But Zidane did not want to wade in on the issue, which he does not believe will derail Barca's season.

Asked if Madrid could take advantage of their Clasico rivals' plight, the Frenchman said: "It's never like that, it's not about that.

"They're not going to be weak, they're a very competitive team. We're not thinking about that for one minute.

"They will compete with us until the end of the season. Good players are always good."

Turning his attention to his own team, who won the Madrid derby last time out and facing Real Sociedad in the quarter-final of the Copa del Rey on Thursday.

Zidane – who also declined to comment on Kylian Mbappe's apparent discontentment at Paris Saint-Germain ​– added: "We have good momentum, we have to keep going in the same way.

"There's a long way to go yet, we haven't won anything yet and that's what it's all about. You can be happy when you've won something, but we haven't won anything yet."

Madrid beat Sociedad 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu in November and welcome them back for a one-off clash in a competition they have not won since 2014.

Zidane anticipates a tough match against a side who sit eighth in LaLiga.

"It's like a final," he said. "It's not like a quarter-final, It's just one game.

"I don't think they're going to come here and give an inch. We have to be really focused, switched on right from the start.

"It's a really good team, as they've shown all season. They play really good football. It's a team that's going to come here and try to do things well."

Zidane refused to confirm if Eden Hazard would be involved following his lengthy absence with an ankle injury.

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