What’s the story?
Barcelona have announced the sacking of director Pere Gratacos after certain comments made by him regarding Lionel Messi during the Copa del Rey quarter-finals draw. In their official statement, the club said he had been dismissed for expressing personal opinions that the club did not agree with.
Addressing the results from the previous round – where Messi inspired the Catalans to a 3–1 win to overturn their first leg defeat and progress in the competition – he said, "Barcelona are not here only because of Messi."
"He's very important but it was the team who won [against Athletic Bilbao in the last 16]. Without Neymar, Luis Suarez, Iniesta, Pique and the others, he wouldn't be such a good player."
In case you didn’t know...
Gratacos was the director of training and education at Barcelona, overseeing key aspects of the famed La Masia youth system which Messi himself came through. During an interview with La Vanguardia in 2010, he had stated that there were many players as skilful as Messi in Africa.
His dismissal has come very swiftly – within a few hours of the statements being made during the quarter-final draw where the Catalans were pitched against Real Sociedad.
The heart of the matter
With Messi’s contract set to expire in 2018 and the Argentine holding out for an improved offer, there is considerable tension among the Barcelona hierarchy regarding both, balancing the books and appeasing the five-time Ballon d'Or winner. Barca CEO Oscar Grau set the cat among the pigeons – Barcelona fans in this case – regarding the future of Messi after claiming the contract extension needed to be “analysed with a cool head and common sense” by the club.
Friday’s comments by Gratacos would have done little to soothe nerves either, and their ill-timing may just have been the key to him getting dismissed from the role.
Gratacos will continue at the club in a diminished role with the Masia 360 project. Other executives at the club would have taken note of this, and will likely be tight-lipped about their comments regarding the superstar.
Luis Enrique has been quick to distance himself from any sort of controversy as well, saying the 29-year-old is the best player in the world.
While Gratacos may have only been trying to point out the brilliance of Messi’s teammates, he clearly failed to read the sensitive nature of the topic and has therefore paid the price. His statements have only provided fuel to the gathering rumours of Barca’s hierarchy looking to phase Messi out of the club, and it’s only natural that the club has tried to put a decisive end to them.
Like several fans and teammates have said, it isn’t really a matter of common sense to extend Messi’s contract.