Barca in turmoil
Five days of 2015 was all it took for crisis mode to envelop Barcelona as two club legends Andoni Zubizarreta and Carles Puyol left their roles with the Catalan giants following a shock 1-0 defeat by David Moyes' Real Sociedad last weekend.
Yet, worse could still be to come with rumours of dressing room discontent between coach Luis Enrique and star players such as Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique, bringing Enrique's position under serious threat should they fail to comfortably see off Elche in the Copa del Rey on Friday morning (Singapore time) and beat La Liga champions Atletico Madrid at home on Monday morning.
Zubizarreta's sacking as the club's sporting director by president Josep Maria Bartomeu on Monday came as little surprise.
Bartomeu is fighting a losing battle to see out his mandate until 2016 and needed a scapegoat for the one-year transfer ban imposed on the club by Fifa for irregularities in the signing of minors, which rules out any further reinforcements to the playing squad until next January.
Anticipating the ban, Zubizarreta was in charge of Barca's near 160 million euros' ($255m) splurge on seven new players over the summer which has so far proved largely unsuccessful.
The most expensive signing in the club's history, Luis Suarez, has scored just one league goal, while 18m-euros defender Thomas Vermaelen is yet to make his debut for the club after being sidelined until April with a hamstring injury.
However, there was widespread shock when former captain Puyol decided to follow Zubizarreta out by resigning.
The 36-year-old intimated his departure from the Nou Camp may be fleeting, stating that he hoped "to grow both personally and professionally so that, in the future, I can return home".
Yet, it was another major body blow for a beleaguered board to lose an icon with a lot more recent credit with the fans, having won three Champions League and six La Liga titles in the past decade.
Indeed, in the brief period between Zubizarreta's sacking and Puyol's resignation, the latter was being touted as the ideal man to step into the role of sporting director with a year to properly learn the ropes before having to dive into the transfer market.
Instead, reports in Spain yesterday suggest that Fiorentina's sporting director Eduardo Macia will be approached for the role.
The boardroom unease has spread onto the pitch as Barca failed to capitalise on Real Madrid's first defeat in 23 games last Sunday away to Valencia, as just hours later, they suffered a third league defeat of the season with Enrique having left nearly 300m euros of talent on the bench.
Messi was among those left on the sidelines after returning to Spain from his Christmas break in Argentina only 48 hours before the match.
The four-time World Player of the Year then missed an open training session in front of the club's fans on Monday due to a reported stomach bug.
However, the rumour mill churned into overdrive when the Argentinian followed Chelsea's official account and their players Cesc Fabregas, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois on the social networking site Instagram later in the day.
Selling Messi, particularly in the midst of a transfer ban, is unthinkable even for a Barca board on the brink.
On the contrary, getting he, Neymar and Suarez playing well together on a consistent basis appears to be the Catalan side's only hope of claiming some silverware come the end of the season.
Should Enrique fail to provide the necessary answers when Diego Simeone's Atletico revisit the scene of their title triumph last season, he may be next to face the brunt of Bartomeu's blame game. - AFP.