New Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has hit out at Real Madrid and sections of the Spanish media for supposedly instigating the close scrutiny of Neymar’s contract that has dominated the news agenda for the last few weeks.
The controversial issue eventually led to last week’s resignation of Bartomeu’s predecessor Sandro Rosell, following the news that alleged irregularities in the contract would be examined by a judge.
Even though the legal case was brought by one of Barca’s own members, Jordi Cases – who has since retracted his complaint following the resignation of Rosell – the new chief of the Nou Camp still believes outside influences were at work.
“In Madrid they find it hard to see Barca dominating and they struggleto digest that we have players like Neymar and Messi,” said Bartomeu.
Refusing to clarify whether he was speaking directly about Real Madrid or the city’s media, he added: “There is a certain belligerence against Barca, but I don’t like to talk about Madrid. I’m happy to have a democratic club like ours.”
Bartomeu also insisted that Lionel Messi is not for sale, following repeated speculation that Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich are considering ambitious summer bids to sign the Argentine forward.
“Messi is not for sale,” insisted the Barca president, reiterating his desire to give Messi a new contract which ensures he is the highestpaid player in the world.
“We want to sit down, without any rush, with Leo’s father,” he added. “It’s not something that’s happening tomorrow and we have plenty of time, but we will do what it takes to make sure he is the best paid player.”
Meanwhile, Barca defender Dani Alves has spoken up in defence of his club and international teammate Neymar after seeing his now infamous contract become the source of such controversy.
Alves feels his fellow Brazilian has been treated unfairly throughout the saga, and said: “The fact that his contract had to be shown to explain his signing is disrespectful.”
However, Alves also feels his club is strong enough to withstand the issue, echoing his president’s suggestion the issue had been engineered to distract Barca’s attention away from their title challenge.
“We have to do our best to not allow ourselves to be destabilised,” he said. “The structure and the project hasn’t changed. Between all of us, we have to continue forward.”
And Alves believes the exciting title race between Barca, Atletico and Real Madrid will go down to the wire, saying: “This title will be very special for the team that wins. It tastes better when you overcome something this difficult.
“I believe it will go to the last match of the season.”
David Moyes says Juan Mata can be Manchester United’s great inspiration as he urged his side to win all 16 Premier League games to finish in the top four.
The arrival of the Spain star in a £37.1million (Dh192m) deal from Chelsea has lifted the beleaguered Old Trafford outfit.
Champions in the last campaign, United are currently seventh and out of the FA Cup and League Cup. But Moyes, who could also have Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie returning alongside debutant Mata against Cardiff tonight, said: “I have been without Wayne for about a month, Robin for two months and I think if I’d had Juan in that period, I’d more than likely have had better results.
“I’ve seen the players in the last 24 hours since his arrival, and one or two of them have said to me ‘what a great signing and we can’t wait to play with him’. What his signing will do is help improve results.
“I am disappointed we are not in a much stronger position, I am disappointed with how we have played. I, ultimately, take the rap for that. But what I will do is make it right.
“We’re probably going to have to win all of our remaining games [to finish in the top four], but the only way you can start that kind of run is by winning the next one and hopefully Juan can help us do that.”
Mata will wear the No8 shirt after rejecting the No7 worn by legends like George Best, Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo. And he said: “What I like most about this club is the character. If another club was in this position in the league it would be very, very difficult for them to come back and to take first.
“This club can do it, always it can do it. This is the real image that I have from Manchester United, always trying to win titles, always fighting for every title, and always coming back from difficult moments.
“I think everything is going to be fine, with the squad we have, with the players who will come in the summer. This club will be successful for sure. It will be a great, great period for me. I just wanted to go to a place where I feel happy.”
While Mata is seen as United’s saviour, Moyes – also pursuing Southampton left-back Luke Shaw – added: “I think there’s a bigger job to be done, but you have to start somewhere.
“If you asked me what I needed most, I would have said a central midfielder, and I could do with a left-back, but sometimes you don’t always get the pieces of the jigsaw at the time.
“I think the message this sends, as I said in the summer, is that we’re going for all the best players in the world and I think Juan is one of those players.”
Cardiff’s visit will see the return of United hero Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, now in charge of the Welsh side. The former striker is aware of the tough task, but has fond memories of his 11 years at Old Trafford.
“For me, the best one was the 2-0 win against Newcastle [in 2006] after my injuries,” he said. “I was credited with both goals. But walking off the pitch, I saw my son clench his fists when he saw me.
“My dad was a wrestler, you see, and I keep hearing about how good he was and how great he was, but I only see these cuttings in a newspaper. But Noah will always be able to remember his dad playing for Manchester United and that was everything for me.”
The Premier League’s top four found themselves paired off in an exciting FA Cup fifth round draw on Sunday.
Leaders Arsenal were handed a home tie with fourth-placed Liverpool, while Chelsea’s reward for beating Stoke is a trip to face Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. C
ity skipper Vincent Kompany immediately tweeted: “Chelsea coming to the Etihad in the FA Cup. Another game to look forward to.”
Meanwhile, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho wasted no time in trying to deflect the pressure onto their opponents.
He said: “We are ready to go there and enjoy. We are going to go there with a good attitude. We have nothing to lose, they have everything to lose, they are the team that was made to win.”
Holders Wigan produced the shock of the fourth round by beating Crystal Palace 2-1 and next face Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Cardiff.
Two other all-Premier League clashes will see Sunderland – fourth-round victors over nonleague Kidderminster – entertain Southampton and five-time winners Everton tackle Swansea at Goodison Park. Hull City’s victory over Southend earned them a return trip south, this time to Brighton.
DRAW FOR THE FA CUP FIFTH ROUND
Manchester City v Chelsea
Sheffield Utd or Fulham v Notts Forest or Preston
Arsenal v Liverpool
Brighton v Hull
Cardiff v Wigan
Sheffield Wednesday v Charlton
Sunderland v Southampton
Everton v Swansea
Matches to be played on the weekend of February 15-16.