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Martino defends Messi

19 April 2014, 15:59

Barcelona - Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino has defended Lionel Messi from criticism for his erratic play during three consecutive losses, while acknowledging he wasn't "satisfied" with his own coaching performance.

In the past two weeks, Barcelona has been eliminated from the Champions League by Atletico Madrid, lost the Copa del Rey final to rival Real Madrid, and fallen behind in third place in the league.

Martino dismissed media speculation that Messi's mini-dip in form might lead to his departure at the end of the season.

"That people are talking about Messi's future surprises us, I don't take those comments seriously," Martino said Saturday. "A football player, when he finds himself in these types of circumstances, focuses on the game. Sometimes they can play better or worse, but since it is (Messi) everything is overblown. His future must be in Barcelona until he stops playing."

Martino is approaching the end of a tumultuous first year of a two-year contract. It is widely expected that he will be fired this summer, unless Barcelona can pull off an unlikely recovery to overtake league leader Atletico and Madrid.

Martino accepted his responsibility for the team's sudden decline, which will likely leave the Catalans without a major trophy for the first time since the 2007-08 season.

"I am not satisfied with my job done," the Argentine said. "When you don't get results, you can't be satisfied. This team is accustomed to winning and, leaving aside the Spanish Super Cup, to have no chances in two competitions and almost none in the third means I can take nothing positive from my performance."

Barcelona hosts Athletic Bilbao on Sunday needing to win to stay within four points of Atletico as the season nears its end. It will be without the injured Neymar, Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique and Victor Valdes, while Sergio Busquets is suspended.

Bilbao manager Ernesto Valverde has been rumored to be a possible replacement for Martino if he is let go.

- AP


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