'Messi or me' - Luis Enrique's ultimatum to the Barcelona board

SPECIAL REPORT: The relationship between player and coach has become untenable and is one of the reasons the Catalan club brought forward presidential elections
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

It is clear that a major power struggle is underway at Barcelona. Regardless of his comments at Wednesday's press conference, coach Luis Enrique has told the board that he and Lionel Messi can no longer work together and the Argentine attacker is also considering his future at the club.

The wider situation at Camp Nou has become so poisonous that, following the departures of sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta and club legend Carles Puyol and the subsequent revelations about the relationship between Messi and his coach, an emergency meeting was called on Wednesday. Prior to that, Barca also announced they would bring forward the 2016 presidential elections to the end of this season.

Things were tense between player and coach in the months leading up until Christmas, but it came to a head in an argument on January 2 as Messi returned to training with Barca after his holidays in South America.

Two days later, Luis Enrique left the Argentine on the bench at Real Sociedad and Barca went behind after just two minutes. "You better warm up," Neymar was then caught telling his team-mate by the television cameras.

At half-time, Luis Enrique sent on Messi to save his side but the Argentine's apathetic display said much of his state of mind and Barca lost the game 1-0. The forward later exchanged angry words with the club's psychologist Joaquin Valdes in the tunnel at Anoeta and, the following day, a holiday in Spain, the 27-year-old missed a special training session open to fans with what was described as "gastroenteritis" by the Catalan club.

Regrettably, Xavi had claimed only days earlier that, when players say they have "gastroenteritis", something else is usually afoot.

Messi missed training back in 2011 the day after he was left on the bench by Pep Guardiola at Anoeta and history has now repeated itself following another game at the same stadium.

The Argentine then set alarm bells ringing on Monday as he followed Chelsea's official account on Instagram. That action was 'liked' by Daniela Semaan, girlfriend of Messi's friend and former Barca team-mate Cesc Fabregas.

Fabregas swapped Camp Nou for Stamford Bridge in the summer and admitted recently he would love Messi to join him in West London. After the latest developments, such a switch suddenly seems much less far-fetched than previously. The pair are said to be trying to persuade Leo and his family to make the same move.

Since Cesc - and former reserve goalkeeper Jose Pinto - left Barca in the summer, Messi has felt increasingly isolated. Now without his two best friends at the club and amid a tense relationship with his coach and the Barca board, he continues to consider his options.

Luis Enrique is unhappy at the Argentine's absence from training on Monday and considered opening an investigation into his no-show, but president Josep Maria Bartomeu is keen to calm the turbulent atmosphere at Camp Nou.

On Wednesday, the coach fielded questions about his relationship with Messi. He attempted to brush off the reports as "rumours" and praised Messi as "the best player in the world", but there was an unease about his comments.

Bartomeu has called on some of the club's senior players to act as intermediaries between Messi and Luis Enrique in an attempt to restore harmony within the ranks, but the relationship now looks broken beyond repair and Barca are already looking at possible alternatives to the Asturian coach.

Following the sacking of Zubizarreta on Monday and the departure of assistant Puyol, Barca are in disarray off the pitch. They are also unable to sign players this year due to their two-window transfer ban enforced for irregularities in the recruitment of youngsters at La Masia.

The Barca board will discuss all of that, as well as the relationship between Messi and Luis Enrique, at a special meeting following these hastily-arranged press conferences on Wednesday.

That meeting may clear the air temporarily but, regardless of the player and coach fall-out, it may change the face of the club - Bartomeu's announcement that he would bring forward presidential elections set for next year implies that the discontent could be terminal.

Come next summer there could well be a situation where none of the above remain at the club. Earlier on Wednesday, Goal reported that former Barca president Joan Laporta is plotting a sensational comeback involving the re-hiring of Pep Guardiola.

That was earmarked for next year but, given the scale of the current impasse, the old guard could return sooner rather than later. What is certain is that Barcelona is very much a club in crisis.

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