Spanish LeagueSaturday, April 12, 2014
Martino defends Messi
It must be hard to be him, Barcelona coach says
After the elimination from the Champions League quarterfinals against Atlético Madrid, Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino defended Lionel Messi and said that “it must be hard to be him” right now.
BARCELONA — Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino has defended Lionel Messi following sharp criticism of the four-times World Player of the Year’s limp performance in Wednesday’s Champions League defeat at Atlético Madrid.
Messi, who has excelled in so many past appearances in Europe’s elite club competition, was strangely subdued during the 1-0 reverse at the Calderón, which sent Atlético through to the last four 2-1 on aggregate. “It is so hard to be Leo Messi in this life and playing soccer,” Martino, who comes from Messi’s home town of Rosario in Argentina, said at a news conference previewing today’s La Liga match at Granada.
“Basically because everything is so unfair. When he doesn’t play as well as people expect him to he ends up being criticized very strongly,” he added. “I think it must be very hard to be him.”
Barça will need Messi to make a swift return to top form if it is to rescue its season following Wednesday’s failure to reach the Champions League semifinals for what would have been a record-extending seventh consecutive edition.
Martino’s side is a point behind La Liga leader Atlético, which plays at Getafe tomorrow, with six games left and plays arch rival Real Madrid in Wednesday’s King’s Cup final in Valencia.
Martino, in his first season in charge of a European club, said Barça’s Champions League exit had been a painful experience and even winning La Liga and the Cup would not dispel the sense of failure.
“I will be happy if we win any other tournament but for me being the new one playing in Europe and the expectations I had for the Champions League this was a failure and will remain a failure no matter what happens,” he told reporters. “After what we went through a team cannot be on top emotionally speaking, but we understand there is no time for grieving. What happened happened and now we must focus on what comes next.”
Martino will need to reshuffle his defence for the trip to Granada after Marc Bartra picked up an injury in training yesterday and joined fellow centre back Gerard Piqué in the treatment room.
Alex Song or Sergio Busquets may be drafted in to play alongside Javier Mascherano, who is also a converted midfielder, as captain Carles Puyol has yet to make his return after injury.