Former Barcelona boss Louis van Gaal has highlighted his concerns that Lionel Messi and Neymar do not contribute enough to ‘team cohesion’.
The Dutchman highlighted the Blaugrana’s failure to land the Champions League title since 2015 and believes that the lack of sacrifice from attacking stars is a major factor in success.
“I believe that every team needs a structure whose purpose is the collaboration between each of the players,” Van Gaal explained in an extensive interview with El Pais.
“Football is a team sport, not an individual sport. In Spain they forget this sometimes because they have stars. I believe that the star must help the team win. And in the world of football this is not common.
“Look at Barcelona. How many Champions Leagues have won with what they say is the best player in the world? Look at Neymar at PSG. How many Champions League have they won? Neymar and Messi…I like them as individual players, not as team players. I believe that in collective games there is nothing more important than the team player.
“One of the best is James Milner. In the final of the Champions League he played as a defender and as a midfielder. It's great that he can offer that aged 33.
“And the forwards? Everyone plays for the team. Salah, Firmino and Mané work very hard in defense because Klopp wants to press. Until a few months ago he saw the light: he understood that pressing is not always the right thing to do, it depends on the conditions.
“His Dortmund was more offensive than his Liverpool, where he learned that sometimes you have to fold a little bit, collect your lines and counterattack. That is good for Salah, Mané and Firmino because they are very quick to take advantage of the spaces behind the rival defense.
“Barça suffered this change. I think Messi should ask himself how it is possible that he has not won a Champions League for so long.
“I am neither in the dressing room nor in the training of Barcelona. I cannot judge. I like Messi as an individual player. He is the best individual player in the world because his statistics are amazing. I like it! But why has not the Champions League won five years ago? Why?
“As a captain, you must ask yourself why the team does not win in Europe. Barça has a wonderful squad. You cannot say that Rakitic is bad, or that Coutinho is bad, or that Alba is a bad player, or Ter Stegen a bad goalkeeper, or Arthur or Vidal …! I think Messi is also responsible for what is happening in Barcelona. Not only the Coach. Players have a substantial part of responsibility for what happens with the team.
“I remember that Neymar at Barça played in Messi's service. I'm not against Neymar. He is fabulous but in PSG he does not play for the team. And I believe that every player must play for the team. Even Messi.
“They have a staff of 30 players and I think Messi must adapt to the team and not the other way around. Guardiola did play Messi for the benefit of the team but the last Coaches have adapted too much to Messi instead of protecting the team spirit. That is the most important.
“Barça already did what Ajax did because Messi can dribble in tight spaces surrounded by no matter how many defenders. What happens is that not only Messi is able to play like this: Coutinho, Busquets, Dembelé, Roberto and Alba are also creative players in this aspect.
“Ajax had that with Ziyech, Tadic, Neres, De Jong and Blind, who are very creative players to manouevre in tight spaces. Only they do it in their own country, and that is not the highest level. The highest level is the Champions League, and there you must take care of the quality of the rivals.
“That's why Barca lost in the semi-finals 4-0 against Liverpool. If there is a true team spirit, at the highest level this result is impossible. Even in the Champions League it is inconceivable that Barça will lose by that difference with the players they have.”