When Barcelona played Granada last matchweek, Lionel Messi and David Villa were spotted having an altercation on the Camp Nou turf.
"Give it to me first time" was what the Argentinian maestro was apparently telling his Spanish counterpart, with lip-readers suggesting that Messi was asking for a quick one-two after feeding the ball to Villa.
Villa retorted in similar fashion, saying "you weren't there first time", but the pair allegedly made up after the game, and although Barcelona won courtesy Xavi's piledriver in the 87th minute and a Lionel Messi orchestrated own-goal in stoppage time, 'El Mesias' was also seen criticising La Masia graduate Thiago Alcantara during his appearance as a late substitute.
As veteran football journalist Graham Hunter put it: “For what it’s worth I think Messi made a minor error in having a pop at Villa in that way. To me it’s not a biggie but given that Villa is just back after months out and cannot be at his sharpest it was a brutal call to lose temper over that. It would have taken an instinctive first time pass of the very highest order for any player to feed Messi’s run.
"The angle was on, Messi saw the opportunity but he’s a genius who’s not been out for close to a year. He and Villa have had their moments because Messi wants the ball all the time. What’s more, Villa has had to sacrifice a lot positionally.”
And therein lies a problem that may seem innocuous on the surface, but scratch underneath and one could be looking at an issue that has existed at Barcelona ever since Lionel Messi was fielded up front for the Catalans.
The fact that Lionel Messi plays up front for Barcelona means that David Villa is now the third striker to come to a tactical compromise to accommodate the man Diego Maradona calls his successor.
Before David Villa came to the Camp Nou, Barcelona could boast of two world-class strikers: Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. During Henry's time, it was Samuel Eto'o who played up front (sometimes alongside the Frenchman), with Lionel Messi out wide on the wings.
Henry hadn't been fielded on the flanks since his time at Juventus, having been Arsenal's main man once he had been 're-taught the art of striking,' to quote him. Six-feet-five-inch Ibrahimovic came to Catalonia as Samuel Eto'o and a rather large amount of money went to Internazionale Milano and Jose Mourinho in Italy.
And for a while, it seemed like Zlatan would fit in with Barca's style of play, as he chipped in regularly with goals.
But one day, Messi asked Guardiola to field him up front. According to Ibrahimovic's autobiography: "Messi is awesome. Unbelievable. I don't know him very well. We are very different personalities. He came to Barca 13 years old and is brought up in their culture.
"In the team, the play revolves around him, which is natural really. He's brilliant, but now I had come, and I was scoring more than he did. He went to Guardiola and said: 'I don't want to play on the right side, on the wing, anymore. I want to be in the middle.'
"That was where I was. But Guardiola didn't give a shit. He changed tactics. From 4-3-3 he switched to 4-5-1 with me on top and Messi right behind, leaving me in the shadow. All balls went through Messi and I couldn't play my game. I have to be free as a bird on the field.
"I'm the guy who wants to make a difference on all levels. But Guardiola sacrificed me. That's the truth. He locked me in up there. OK, I can understand his situation. Messi was the star."
Zlatan did attempt to work out what the problem was, but then Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola froze him out completely. He scored two goals in the Champions League against Arsenal at the Emirates, but was then substituted and saw Arsenal pull back to 2-2.
Ibrahimovic had come off for Thierry Henry, who was also having problems with playing on the wing. Henry had expected to alternate with Zlatan in the striker's role, but Messi's request to play there had put a spanner in both strikers' works.
To quote from Ibrahimovic's autobiography again: "I asked Thierry Henry, who was on the bench during this time. Thierry Henry is the top scorer in the history of the French national team. He's cool. He was still amazing, and he was also having problems with Guardiola.
"He doesn't greet me. He doesn't look me in the eyes, what has happened?" I asked.
"No idea", Henry said.
"We started joking about it. "Hey, Zlatan, has he looked at you today?" "No, but I saw his back!" "Congratulations, things are improving!" s*** like that, and it helped a little bit. But it was really getting on my nerves, and I asked myself every hour: What have I done? What's wrong?"
Things ultimately took a turn for the worse for the striking duo. Thierry Henry was shipped off to New York Red Bulls after being frozen out of the Barcelona squad for the latter part of his last season in Spain, while the lack of playing time was beginning to eat at Zlatan.
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