The current Barcelona squad have a great deal left to give and there is no need for a sweeping overhaul in the close season, captain Carles Puyol said yesterday.
Barca coach Gerardo Martino and his players have come in for some sharp criticism following last week’s Champions League exit at the hands of Atletico Madrid and Saturday’s shock reverse at Granada in La Liga.
Sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta has been accused of failing to bring in sufficient squad reinforcements over the past couple of years, with the lack of a centre back to replace the ailing Puyol seen as one glaring omission.
A Fifa ban from the transfer market for the next two windows could also complicate life for the Spanish champions if their appeal against the sanction, over a breach of rules on the transfer of foreign under-18 players, is unsuccessful.
Puyol, who turned 36 this week and has barely featured this season because of injury, said he and his team-mates were with Argentine Martino, who is just under halfway through a two-year contract, “to the death”.
“I don’t think there needs to be a revolution, depending on the results,” Puyol told a news conference ahead of tomorrow’s King’s Cup final against Real Madrid when record winners Barca will be chasing a 27th triumph in the competition.
“You have to have a working method, not just according to whether you win one or two trophies,” added the centre back.
“The team is hungry, it wants to win and keep making history.”
Puyol and team-mates like Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi are among the most decorated and experienced players in football history but Barca have stumbled in recent weeks against defensive teams, especially on the road.
They have dominated games but failed to turn long periods of possession into goals and Saturday’s 1-0 defeat in Granada left them four points behind La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid and a point behind Real with five games left.
“We are aware that we have made mistakes but I can say loud and clear that we will fight as hard as we can in the final and in the five remaining league matches, when a lot of things can still happen,” Puyol said.
“There have been moments when we were not consistent enough but now we need to look ahead.
“We have a very important final and we have to give the fans some joy. For sure, winning in Valencia would be a big confidence boost and will change things around.”
Martino is waiting on Puyol’s fitness as well as that of fellow injured centre backs Gerard Pique and Marc Bartra for the clash at Valencia’s Mestalla stadium, the venue for the 2011 final which Real won 1-0.
“I am working hard to get there, as are Marc and Gerard,” Puyol said.
“There are two days to go and we will do everything to be there. Tomorrow we will assess our chances of playing.”
Zubizarreta has acknowledged Barcelona’s recent results have left him experiencing his “worst moment as sporting director”, but backed coach Martino to see out his contract.
“If we talk about results, it’s my worst moment as sporting director,” the former Spain goalkeeper told Catalan television. “We played so well [at Granada]with 80 per cent of possession. But we lacked composure in the final pass.”
The 52-year-old, who took over his role from Txiki Begiristain in July 2010 and oversaw unprecedented success on the pitch in his first two years with Pep Guardiola as coach, remained confident in Martino.
“He’s going to fulfil his contract,” the former Barca goalkeeper added of the Argentine, who signed a two-year deal last summer.
“He has said that I do not know how many times.
“Right now, he is our coach and I am very proud of his work.”
Barca’s season got off to an up-and-down start, as, after completing the much-coveted signing of Brazil forward Neymar from Santos, Guardiola’s successor Tito Vilanova was forced to step down to continue cancer treatment.
Zubizarreta continued: “We started the season with a press conference with Tito [as our coach], and the next day we did not have him.
“However, I would not change anything we planned last summer because we signed the player everyone wanted and we have a balanced and competitive workforce.” Star striker Lionel Messi has come under the spotlight lately due to a rare dip in form, but Zubizarreta was quick to play down concerns over the wellbeing of the Argenina forward.
“What’s wrong with Leo? We’re used to seeing him do magic and he feels that responsibility,” he said, with one eye perhaps on Wednesday’s Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid at the Mestalla.
“Leo is fine and I have no doubt that he will give us the joy that he wants to give us.”
And Zubizarreta recalled the 26-year-old kissing the Barca badge after completing his hat-trick in the 4-3 Clasico win at the Bernabeu last month as all the evidence needed of the player’s commitment to the Catalan outfit.
“There is little to add to that,” he said.