Barcelona coach Luis Enrique backed his players’ decision not to attend Monday’s Best FIFA Men’s Player award ceremony.
Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique were all named in the FIFPro Team of the Year, but all four decided against attending the event in Zurich in favour of focusing on Wednesday’s Copa del Rey game against Athletic Bilbao.
Real Madrid stars Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo were among those to voice their disappointment at the Barca players’ no-show, but Luis Enrique has lent his support to the decision.
“The decision to go or not is individual,” the Barca boss said in a news conference on Tuesday. “As their coach I can only back their decision because there’s a situation with regards to football that’s more important.
“There are certain commitments that the players have to take into account, and I back their decision 100 percent. Sport comes first; any criticism [which follows] is part of life as a footballer.”
Barca lost the first leg of their round-of-16 tie against Athletic 2-1, so will have to come from behind at Camp Nou this week if they want to remain in the competition they’ve won in each of the last two years.
Madrid also play in the cup this week, although their game against Sevilla is on Thursday and they go into it in a more favourable position having won the first leg 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
“I understand they have a big game on Wednesday, but I obviously would have liked them to be there,” Ronaldo said after being crowned FIFA’s The Best.
“I always do what the club say I should do. For example I was at the [Ballon d’Or] awards every year. And if I am nominated in the years to come I will be there too.”
It wasn’t just Madrid players who disagreed with the Barcelona players’ non-attendance.
Diego Maradona said he was “disappointed” with Messi for not travelling to Switzerland and even Dani Alves said they should have gone.
“They should have come,” the former Barca right-back said. “That’s my opinion. Today’s not going to change the preparation much [for Athletic] because they’ve been prepared for a while to take on any challenge.”