Lionel Messi and Marc-André Ter Stegen had a training ground squabble after they both went after a 50/50 ball, according to a new report in Spain. After Barcelona’s 2-0 loss to Valencia at Mestalla, the report says, tension was high in the squad.
This came after a different newspaper had reported that two “heavyweights” in the dressing room had an “incident” in training. The way they described it, one of the two “attempted a joke that the ‘victim’ didn’t understand well.”
That lead to an argument with a stronger tone. Other teammates helped calm them down, after which nothing else happened.
The crux of both stories is that Barcelona’s dressing room is unsettled after the arrival of Quique Setién, which does seem likely. Results haven’t gone terribly well either before or since he was appointed. Winning is the best salve there is, and for Barcelona’s standards, that is missing. Injuries to key players have underlined questions surrounding the club’s transfer policy during the winter, ultimately culminating in a row between Messi and technical secretary Éric Abidal.
All of this sounds very normal to me. Again, players want to win, and if they feel that they are not doing as well as they should, they will obviously not be happy. That will naturally lead to some friction in the dressing room. But just as naturally, that can be fixed with a bit of winning.
In addition, let’s appreciate the spotlight they’re under. Every moment of training and playing, at least, if not their entire lives, is examined. Sometimes you have a bad moment and you raise your voice when you don’t want to or maybe shouldn’t. It’s usually forgotten by the next day, if not by the next hour. If Ter Stegen and Messi do this, though, it becomes a big news item. But perhaps it shouldn’t.
The first team squad has 18 players, plus four or five B teamers who regularly are called to train with them. They come from 10 different countries, and speak 9 different languages. They have different cultures, and different religions. Some are as old as 33, while Ansu Fati is only 17.
They compete at a very high level. For one, they expect the absolute best from their teammates. They want to win and know to do that they need everyone giving 100%. Any mistake someone makes - they do not want to gloss over it. Second, they compete against each other, too, for recognition, playing time, and so on.
Training is intense and happens for hours. It’s unavoidable that at some point, someone will make a joke that’s not well-received, or someone will be visibly annoyed, or someone might even be legitimately angry. So long as the incident does not cross lines, for example, into an actual physical fight, it can be forgotten. (Well, even physical fights can be forgotten, but that is much harder.)
I’ve heard from ex-pros and coaches that a little bit of tension can be a good thing. You don’t want people too relaxed. Obviously that doesn’t mean you want people hating each other. But if Barcelona lost 2-0 to Valencia like that, and people didn’t feel tension, weren’t upset... wouldn’t you worry more?
This level of tension seems entirely normal to me, and common in every team. From time to time, these things happen. Unless it translates to something worse, it’s not time to panic yet.