In a recently published interview with The Daily Telegraph, Abidal reveals how President Bartomeu ignored his advice of needing to sign a winger, and instead went on to sign Griezmann.
“Ten days before the end of the transfer window, I went to Paris to talk with Leonardo (PSG’s sporting director) and I was with my CEO, and we were talking about Neymar,” said Abidal. “I think if the CEO goes to Paris Saint-Germain, it’s because we can sign him. If we didn’t sign Griezmann before, I think 100 per cent we could have re-signed Neymar because what we needed was a winger and when Neymar was in Barcelona he was amazing. This is not about which player is better, it was what I thought was the position we needed at the time. The team needed a real winger. The president decided to sign Griezmann.
“One of the arguments against Neymar was that he had a court case against the club. They said he would have to stop the court process if he wanted to come back. That wasn’t my problem because I was not at the club when that dispute happened. In my view, we could have signed him, but it didn’t happen.”
Eric Abidal was a sporting director between 2018 and 2020 under the controversial president Josep Maria Bartomeu’s board. The former Barcelona player was eventually sacked from his position in the summer of 2020.
In his first interview since leaving his position at the club, Eric Abidal gives fascinating insight into the problems he faced while in the job. How multiple disagreements with Bartomeu eventually ended in him resigning from the job in August last year.
Abidal wanted Pochettino to replace Valverde
Back in December 2018. Ernesto Valverde had just started his 2nd year in charge. Despite the team sitting on top of La Liga, Eric Abidal was in favour of sacking Ernesto Valverde:
“In December 2018, after evaluating the coach, his staff and the team, I recommended that we should change Ernesto Valverde,” said Abidal. “I said to the president: ‘I think this is the decision you have to take now’. And he told me ‘no, it’s not easy’. Instead he renewed Valverde’s contract two months later – the opposite of what I had suggested. Obviously I accepted the decision, but it was a little bit strange for me after I said to the president that it was better to bring in a new coach.”
Less than a year later, in January 2020, Barcelona ended up sacking Ernesto Valverde anyway after losing to Atletico Madrid in the semi final of the Spanish super cup.
When discussing who to replace Valverde with, Abidal once again found himself in a disagreement with President Josep Maria Bartomeu. “On my list was Mauricio Pochettino, Quique Setien, Massimiliano Allegri and Xavi. Quique (Setien) was appointed, but my first option was Pochettino.”
When asked if he ever spoke to Pochettino, Abidal revealed: “Yes and i wasn’t the only one. I told the board that we have to bring the best possible available coach. I don’t care about politics. It doesn’t matter that he managed Espanyol. I wanted the best and Pochettino is one of the best. He reached the Champions League final with Tottenham, you have to respect that. He has a good philosophy of playing and a good training regime. His players love him and I think he would be a better coach now for this situation.”
Pochettino’s Espanyol background seemed to be a problem for Bartomeu. Him and his board were also not impressed with the Argentine having stated that he’d rather work on his farm in Argentina than coach Barcelona. Abidal says: “This was a problem for some people’s egos and they said ‘no (to Pochettino) because he’s not respecting the club,”
“I knew there was a political problem because I presented my argument to the board and their answers were focused on Espanyol and not on the technical and factual part,” said Abidal.
Public dispute with Leo Messi
Shortly after Barcelona appointed Quique Setien as head coach, Abidal found himself attacked on social media by the clubs number 1 superstar, Leo Messi. Abidal claimed Barcelona’s players had not been happy with Valverde, and that they had not been working hard enough under their former manager.
Messi saw that Abidal tried to blame the players for the sacking of Valverde, and reacted with a public response on instagram. Messi denied that the players were the ones behind Valverde losing his job, and he also accused Abidal of throwing dirt on the squad.
To The Telegraph, Abidal said: “I think I was right. They needed to train harder in my opinion. In my time with Guardiola, it was ‘you want the best? Ok, you have to train like the best. You will win everything, but only if you do the job during the week’. That’s what i said. I never said that the players wanted to get rid of the coach.
“Messi spoke to me personally as well. We had a strong conversation, but I can accept his opinion. I have no problem with that, because you have to be transparent. I was very comfortable because he was the only player who talked to me like this. I respect that. I also understand Messi is the captain and he wanted to defend his team, but I never said that Messi told me to sack the coach.”
The egos of the Bartomeu board
Abidal also revealed how he learnt about the big egos of his fellow board members and the lack of transparency when he tried to solve the financial situation the club was digging into.
“Back in March 2019, I introduced the board to a company that was ready to invest money into to the club. When you have a company who want to invest, they want to know everything about the club’s accounts. However, Barcelona was hesitating to give up this information because they wanted to keep it secret. I understand that maybe you are ashamed to show to the people, big people, that you are not managing the club well. But these people can help you to manage it well. But at Barcelona everybody wanted to protect themselves. It was like ‘don’t show that I am doing my job badly because I’ll lose my job”