Barcelona Secure Champions League Last 16 Spot

Barcelona’s French forward Antoine Griezmann celebrates his goal during the UEFA Champions League Group F football match between FC Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, on November 27, 2019.
PAU BARRENA / AFP

 

Barcelona secured a place in the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday with a convincing 3-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund.

Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi, and Antoine Griezmann scored for the La Liga champions who have an unassailable four-point advantage ahead of the German side at the top of Group F with one round to go.

AFP

Vidal Grabs Late Winner For Barcelona At Leganes

Barcelona’s Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal (L) celebrates after scoring during the Spanish league football match against Club Deportivo Leganes SAD at the Estadio Municipal Butarque in Leganes on November 23, 2019. PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP

 

 

Barcelona needed a late winner from Arturo Vidal to beat bottom-club Leganes 2-1 on Saturday and dig out a much-needed victory ahead of what could prove a crucial month in their season. 

Vidal poked in a fortuitous goal in the 79th minute at Butarque after Luis Suarez headed home a Lionel Messi free-kick to cancel out a brilliant opener from Leganes forward Youssef En-Nesyri.

Barcelona stay top of the table, three points above Real Madrid, who play later on Saturday at home to La Liga’s surprise high-fliers Real Sociedad.

A gritty victory will also come as a relief to under-pressure coach Ernesto Valverde, whose team now turn their attention to Wednesday’s crunch Champions League group game against Borussia Dortmund at Camp Nou.

A goalless draw against Slavia Prague earlier this month means Barca’s qualification from Group F is no longer guaranteed.

After Dortmund, they then play away at Atletico Madrid in La Liga to start a month that will include trips to Inter Milan in the Champions League and Real Sociedad in La Liga before the season’s first Clasico at home to Real Madrid.

It was important therefore to avoid a slip against Leganes, playing their first game in front of their own fans since appointing Javier Aguirre as coach.

“It was a big win because the game was very difficult,” Valverde said. “The pitch was dreadful, there was a lot of wind and they scored early.

“I don’t want it to sound like an excuse but it made it hard and still we were able to win. It wasn’t a brilliant game but these are the ones you have to win to win the title.”

The home side made the perfect start as En-Nesyri beat Gerard Pique with a wonderful early striker.

Pique has spent the international break juggling football with the Davis Cup, the revamped tennis tournament in Madrid that he is organising through his marketing company Kosmos.

“There is more noise outside the club than inside,” said Pique after the match. “I think it’s got a bit out of hand – whether I’m in Madrid, eating here, having dinner there – it’s all part of the circus. But I do my job. I come here, I play football. And that’s it.”

Doubts about the defender’s focus would not have been allayed in the opening quarter of an hour.

One pass from Roque Mesa was enough to set En-Nesyri free against the 32-year-old in the 12th minute.

Pique jostled but was taken by surprise as En-Nesyri nipped inside and bent a shot into the far corner. Leganes might have had a second soon after and Pique would have been at fault, the defender allowing Martin Braithwaite in after failing to clear, but Oscar Rodriguez was unable to capitalise.

Crosses were a weakness for Leganes as three Barcelona headers all could have gone in. Suarez went close. Pique hit the post. Then Suarez did find the net, glancing in Messi’s clipped free-kick for his ninth goal of the season.

Barca’s second owed much to luck but it came from another cross. Pique rose to head in but the ball missed him and cannoned off the foot of Ruben Perez. Vidal was waiting on the line to prod in.

AFP

Valverde Accepts Barca Under Pressure After Slavia Stalemate

Barcelona’s Spanish coach Ernesto Valverde looks on during the UEFA Champions League group F football match between FC Barcelona and SK Slavia Prague at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on November 5, 2019.
LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Ernesto Valverde admitted Barcelona are in a rut after they followed up their La Liga defeat by Levante with a goalless draw at home to Slavia Prague on Tuesday in the Champions League.

Lionel Messi hit the crossbar in the first half but that was as close as Barca came during a disjointed display that risks dragging Valverde’s team back into the fight for qualification from Group F.

“The other day we lost against Levante and we know this was not one of our best games either,” Valverde said. “We haven’t been convincing either on Saturday or today and we know there is a lot of pressure now on the team. We have to respond.”

Barcelona play Dortmund at home next and will hope progress is secured before their final game against Inter Milan at the San Siro.

The likelihood is they have already done enough to make the last 16 but Valverde will face scrutiny, this blunt performance coming only three days after his side were beaten 3-1 by Levante in La Liga.

If that loss was defined by three goals conceded in seven mad minutes, this one was far less dramatic, a story of stodgy possession in front of their own fans, whose displeasure made for an increasingly sour atmosphere at Camp Nou.

As a dejected Messi stood with his hands on his hips in the centre circle at the final whistle, not even the blast of the stadium music could drown out the whistles.

“In football today and with teams like ours, it is all about winning and winning emphatically,” Valverde said. “It is never enough. The season begins and there isn’t talk of winning a title, there is talk of winning three or four. So the frustration when you don’t win a game is high.”

Slavia’s players saluted their own supporters like they had pulled off a remarkable upset.

Pique Pleads for ‘Patience’

After all, this was only the third time in 29 Champions League matches that Barcelona have failed to win at home, the other two against Juventus and Tottenham last season, when the Catalans had already qualified.

Their night was made worse by Jordi Alba being forced off at half-time with a hamstring injury while Gerard Pique’s yellow card means he will be suspended for the game against Dortmund.

“I would ask for a little patience,” added Pique. “We are not playing at the level we expect. We have to improve.”

Slavia’s pace in attack caused Barcelona problems in the first 45 minutes, which for the home side was illuminated only by the occasional moment from Messi.

Clement Lenglet almost conceded an early penalty when Marc-Andre ter Stegen pushed a pull-back into the defender’s chest while Pique accepted his booking after being robbed of the ball by Peter Olayinka.

Olayinka, Slavia’s gangly forward, was particularly lively as he teed up Lukas Masopust for a shot inside the area before skipping away from Nelson Semedo, who also had to take a yellow card.

Barcelona were sloppy in possession and lacklustre out of it. Ousmane Dembele was erratic and Antoine Griezmann, still playing on the left despite Luis Suarez’s injury, was quiet.

It was up to Messi to lift the mood and he almost scored with a brilliant run from the halfway line that began with a drop of the shoulder and ended with a bending shot against the crossbar.

Both sides had goals ruled out for offside either of half-time, which was greeted by whistles from the home fans, who grew increasingly restless as Barca failed to improve.

They whistled again at Dembele when he was replaced by Ansu Fati and there were groans at mistakes too, like when Semedo headed out for a corner or Lenglet miscontrolled for a throw.

Messi went close but his finish at the near post hit the goalkeeper before Ivan Rakitic, on for Sergio Busquets, curled over late on. When Arturo Vidal stretched but fell short at the far post, the game was up.

Barcelona Stumble To Home Draw Against Slavia

File Photo: Barcelona’s Spanish coach Ernesto Valverde 
Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Ernesto Valverde is under mounting pressure at Barcelona after his team followed up their La Liga defeat by Levante with a goalless draw at home to Slavia Prague on Tuesday in the Champions League.

Lionel Messi hit the crossbar in the first half but that was as close as Barca came during a disjointed display that risks dragging Valverde’s team back into the fight for qualification from Group F.

Barcelona sit four points ahead of both Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan, whose game in hand comes against each other later on Tuesday. Barca play Dortmund at home next but will hope progress is secured before their final game at the San Siro.

The likelihood is they have already done enough to make the last 16 but Valverde will again face scrutiny, this blunt performance coming only three days after his side were beaten 3-1 by Levante in La Liga on Saturday.

If that loss was defined by three goals conceded in seven mad minutes, this one was far less dramatic, a story of stodgy possession in front of their own fans, whose displeasure made for an increasingly sour atmosphere at Camp Nou.

As a dejected Messi stood with his hands on his hips in the centre circle at the final whistle, not even the blast of the stadium music could drown out the whistles.

Slavia’s players saluted their own supporters like they had pulled off a remarkable upset.

After all, this was only the third time in 29 Champions League matches that Barcelona have failed to win at home, the other two against Juventus and Tottenham last season, when the Catalans had already qualified.

Their night was made worse by Jordi Alba being forced off at half-time with a hamstring injury while Gerard Pique’s yellow card means he will be suspended for the game against Dortmund.

Slavia’s pace in attack caused Barcelona problems in the first 45 minutes, which for the home side was illuminated only by the occasional moment from Messi.

Clement Lenglet almost conceded an early penalty when Marc-Andre ter Stegen pushed a pull-back into the defender’s chest while Pique accepted his booking after being robbed of the ball by Peter Olayinka.

Olayinka, Slavia’s gangly forward, was particularly lively as he teed up Lukas Masopust for a shot inside the area before skipping away from Nelson Semedo, who also had to take a yellow card.

Barcelona were sloppy in possession and lacklustre out of it. Ousmane Dembele was erratic and Antoine Griezmann, still playing on the left despite Luis Suarez’s injury, was quiet.

It was up to Messi to lift the mood and he almost scored with a brilliant run from the halfway line that began with a drop of the shoulder and ended with a bending shot against the crossbar.

Both sides had goals ruled out for offside either of half-time, which was greeted by whistles from the home fans, who grew increasingly restless as Barca failed to improve.

They whistled again at Dembele when he was replaced by Ansu Fati and there were groans at mistakes too, like when Semedo headed out for a corner or Lenglet miscontrolled for a throw.

Messi went close but his finish at the near post hit the goalkeeper before Ivan Rakitic, on for Sergio Busquets, curled over late on. When Arturo Vidal stretched but fell short at the far post, the game was up.

Barcelona Slip To Shock Defeat After Levante Goal Flurry

Barcelona’s Argentinian Forward Lionel Messi (R) celebrates scoring the opening goal with Barcelona’s French forward Antoine Griezmann (L), Barcelona’s Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez (2L) and Barcelona’s Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal during the Spanish League football match between Levante UD and FC Barcelona at the Ciutat de Valencia stadium in Valencia, on November 2, 2019. JOSE JORDAN / AFP

 

Lionel Messi scored again but was helpless to prevent Barcelona conceding three goals in seven minutes on Saturday as Levante stormed to a surprise 3-1 victory in La Liga. 

Messi converted a first-half penalty at the City of Valencia stadium for his sixth goal in five games only for Levante to stun the defending champions with an incredible treble shortly after the hour.

Jose Campana and Borja Mayoral scored in the 61st and 63rd minutes before Nemanja Radoja added a third in the 68th to finish Barca off and give Real Madrid the chance to move top of the table later on Saturday.

350,000 Protesters Flood Barcelona For Separatist ‘Freedom’ Rally

A Basque “ikurrina” flag flies among Catalan pro-independence “Estelada” flags during a pro-independence demonstration called by Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural organisations, against the conviction of Catalan separatist leaders for the 2017 attempted secession, in Barcelona, on October 26, 2019. LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Around 350,000 people rallied in downtown Barcelona on Saturday, turning the streets into a sea of independence flags in the latest mass protest against Spain’s jailing of nine separatist leaders.

The turnout figure was given by the local police as vast crowds packed into a wide avenue running between the waterfront and the city’s towering Sagrada Familia basilica, which was once again closed to visitors.

Catalonia has been gripped by unrest since the October 14 Supreme Court verdict which unleashed a wave of huge demonstrations that quickly turned violent, with angry protesters hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at riot police, who hit back with tear gas, foam rounds and rubber bullets.

The crisis began two years ago when the region staged a banned referendum on October 1 that was marred by police violence, then issued a short-lived declaration of independence, trigging Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Saturday’s rally was called by the ANC and Omnium Cultural, the region’s two biggest grassroots pro-independence groups that have organised some of the largest separatist protests in recent years.

Marching down the spacious boulevard, demonstrators held up banners reading “We won’t give in” and chanting “October 1, we won’t forgive, we won’t forget”.

As a police helicopter flew overhead, they broke into loud boos and whistling, an AFP correspondent said.

“I feel really angry,” said a 26-year-old computer technician from Tarragona called Marc, who did not give his surname and described the heavy prison sentences handed to nine separatist leaders as “totally over the top, inhuman, and shameful”.

“The violence doesn’t sit well with me but it’s normal to have a bit of upheaval like we’ve seen in Chile and Ecuador,” he said of a wave of mass protests in Latin America.

“There are different ways of protesting but we have one objective: independence.”

A second demonstration called by the radical CDR will being at 7:30 pm (1730 GMT), raising fears there could be fresh clashes with police.

Counter demonstration on Sunday 

Catalans remain sharply divided over the question of separating from Spain, with a September poll showing 44 percent in favour but 48.3 percent against. The violent protests over the verdict have only deepened that division.

The violence eased off last week although the protests continued, with thousands of flag-waving students marching peacefully through the city on Friday evening.

More than 600 people have been injured so far in the protests, among them 367 civilians, four of whom lost an eye, Catalan health officials say, with government figures showing 289 police were also hurt.

Earlier on Saturday, thousands rallied in Madrid in defence of Spain’s unity at a demonstration called by the far-right Vox party, which has taken a very tough line on Catalan separatism and wants all regional pro-independence parties banned.

Although the faction only entered parliament in April, polls indicate it might become the third-largest party following the November 10 election.

On Sunday, activists from Catalan Civil Society (SCC) will hold a counter demonstration by those who want the region to remain part of Spain and who want the protest violence to end.

“Those who oppose independence are a majority, and that is an important message for Catalonia, for Spain and the world, where often separatism is associated with Catalonia,” SCC head Fernando Sanchez Costa told AFP.

“It’s important to go back out and say: that’s enough violence and confrontation,” he said, warning that the unrest was causing a lot of damage to Catalan society.

 Separation ‘not an option’ 

Until now, the Socialist government of Pedro Sanchez has turned a deaf ear to repeated calls for dialogue from regional president Quim Torra, who wants to secure Madrid’s agreement for a referendum on independence.

“What we will not talk about is the right to self-determination,” Carmen Calvo, Sanchez’s deputy, told journalists on Saturday.

“If, as president Torra has said every day, the aim is to break up Spain’s territorial unity and separate Catalonia from Spain, we simply cannot talk,” she said.

“Unilaterally breaking the rules of the game is not an option.”

AFP

Barcelona Pay €15m For First Refusal On Atletico Youngsters

 

Barcelona have paid Atletico Madrid 15 million euros for the right to be given first refusal on six Atletico players, AFP learned on Tuesday.

Atletico sources have told AFP the agreement has “nothing to do” with the dispute between the two clubs over the transfer of Antoine Griezmann last summer.

“It is a right of first refusal on a list of players primarily from the academy,” these sources added.

Spanish newspaper El Mundo had claimed on Tuesday the fee is to “make peace in the Griezmann case”.

The agreement allows Barcelona to match or exceed any offers for those players whenever the player wants to leave, Atletico agree to sell and an acceptable bid arrives from a separate club.

Griezmnann left Atletico for Barcelona when the Catalan club activated his release clause of 120 million euros in July.

Atletico claimed they were due 200 million euros from the transfer because they said Griezmann had agreed to move to Barca in March, before the clause dropped on July 1.

The Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) fined Barcelona 300 euros on September 26 for failing to notify Atletico they were in talks with the Frenchman.

But the RFEF concluded there was no evidence Griezmann had signed a formal contract with Barca.

AFP

Mallorca Dethrone Real Madrid As La Liga Leaders

Real Madrid’s Spanish defender Sergio Ramos gestures during the Spanish league football match RCD Mallorca against Real Madrid CF at the Iberostar estadi stadium in Palma de Mallorca on October 19, 2019. JAIME REINA / AFP

 

Real Mallorca handed Real Madrid their first league defeat of the season on Saturday, to leave Barcelona who beat Eibar 3-0 earlier on top of La Liga.

Junior Lago scored what will be the only goal of the game just seven minutes in with the much-criticised Thibaut Courtois failing to stop the first shot sent his way.

Newly-promoted Real Mallorca held on after that, putting on a disciplined defensive display to the delight of their fans at the Estadi de Son Moix in Palma.

The victory lifted them out of the relegation zone and marks a step back for Zinedine Zidane whose men have failed to convince in the league and face a battle to avert disaster in the Champions League after failing to win their first two group clashes.

Real Madrid had come into the game deprived by injury of several first-team members. Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Dani Carvajal, and Raphael Varane were unavailable and Eden Hazard was left out after his wife gave birth.

In their absence, Zidane fielded an attack-minded team with Isco and James Rodriguez getting the nod in midfield, while Vinicius Junior and Luka Jovic joined Karim Benzema upfront.

Eder Militao partnered Captain Sergio Ramos at centre-back, while Alvaro Odriozola replaced Carvajal at right-back.

Fans would have expected Real to easily pick up all three points, Lago Junior’s beautiful early strike put Mallorca on course for victory.

Odriozola, in particular, had a poor game being partly at fault for the first goal and picking up a second yellow card late in the second half to leave a Real Madrid side already short of ideas with a mountain to climb.

Not only did they fail to accomplish the task, but they were also fortunate not to concede a second goal as they left themselves exposed on occasions as they pushed for an equaliser.

Messi, Suarez, Griezmann All On Target As Barca Move Top Of La Liga

Barcelona’s Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez (L) celebrates after scoring during their match against SD Eibar at the Ipurua stadium in Eibar on October 19, 2019. STRINGER / AFP

 

Barcelona’s ‘MSG’ strike force is finally clicked into gear as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann all scored in a ruthless 3-0 victory over Eibar on Saturday.

Griezmann’s place in the newly-formed attacking trident has not been secure but the Frenchman opened the scoring at Ipurua before teeing up Messi and then playing the crucial pass for Suarez to make it three.

“There will be good and bad days but we are getting to know each other and bit by bit we will do even better,” said Griezmann.

An authoritative Barca display thrust them to the top of La Liga, for a few hours at least before Real Madrid play Real Mallorca. They moved three points clear of Atletico, who drew 1-1 at home to Valencia.

The victory also dismissed suggestions their players might be affected by Friday’s postponement of next Saturday’s Clasico due to protests in Catalonia.

Violence in Barcelona and disruptions at El Prat airport meant Ernesto Valverde’s side altered their pre-match routine and embarked on a 589-kilometre bus trip to the Basque County on Friday.

All the while, discussions continued over the Clasico against Real Madrid, which is now expected to go ahead in December.

“It is fashionable not to agree on political issues but at least let’s agree on the date of the Clasico,” Valverde said afterwards. “It doesn’t seem to me that difficult.”

Perhaps chaos off the pitch inspired Barca to unite on it.

This was their fifth consecutive victory in all competitions, a sequence which is swiftly erasing memories of a stumbling start to the season.

The resurgence has coincided with Messi’s return from injury yet it was the fluidity and cohesion of the front three, rather than the Argentinian’s familiar solo brilliance, that will have been most pleasing for Valverde.

“Great players always understand each other,” Valverde said. “With time and matches they will understand each other even more.”

Four for Griezmann

Griezmann has four goals since joining Barca from Atletico Madrid last summer but a series of underwhelming showings led to Ousmane Dembele starting against Sevilla before the international break.

There was good news too for Barcelona in defence, where Samuel Umtiti came through 90 minutes in what was his first appearance of the season. Umtiti, who has been out with a foot injury, replaced the banned Gerard Pique.

The only blot on the result was an injury to Sergi Roberto, who hurt his left knee and was replaced at half-time. He will be a doubt for the Champions League game away at Slavia Prague on Wednesday.

The visiting fans chanted in support of the nine Catalan leaders imprisoned last week for a failed independence bid in 2017.

Griezmann’s finish clipped the inside of the post and found the net after 13 minutes.

Messi should have made it two before half-time but was denied one-on-one by goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic. Suarez’s effort was ruled out for offside.

Barca made it two just before the hour as Frenkie de Jong’s incisive ball was collected by Suarez. As he lost control, Griezmann took over, flicking left to Messi, who made no mistake.

The third involved all three again. Griezmann’s superb reverse pass set Messi clear and he generously slipped the ball left for Suarez who was left with an open goal.

Atletico lost ground as they were undone by a late Dani Parejo free-kick against Valencia at the Wanda Metropolitano, where both sides finished the game with 10 men.

Diego Costa scored a first-half penalty and in a frantic final 10 minutes, Joao Felix limped off with all three of Diego Simeone’s substitutes already used.

Parejo struck in the 82nd minute and Valencia’s Lee Kang-In was sent off in injury-time.

Atletico confirmed Felix suffered a “bad twist” in his right ankle. His fitness will be a concern for Simeone ahead of Atletico’s Champions League game at home to Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday.

“At first it didn’t look like much but the doctors think it could be serious,” said Simeone.

AFP

Fears Of More Violence In Barcelona As Separatists Call For New Protest

 

Barcelona was bracing for fresh violence Saturday after nearly 200 people were hurt in a night of clashes with radical separatists hurling rocks and fireworks at police who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

A radical movement of young separatists, Arran, called for a new demonstration “against repression” for 1600 GMT in central Barcelona.

The Catalan capital resembled a chaotic battleground Friday, the fifth consecutive day of protests over a Spanish court’s jailing of nine separatist leaders on sedition charges over a failed independence bid two years ago.

Emergency services said Saturday that 152 people had been injured in overnight clashes in Barcelona, with dozens more hurt in the rest of Catalonia, taking the total to 182.

Authorities had already reported 500 injured since Monday even before the latest clashes erupted.

According to the interior ministry, 83 people were detained in the overnight violence, in addition to the 128 arrests police had reported before Friday’s march.

Smell of Burning

“This can’t go on, Barcelona does not deserve this,” said Ada Colau, the city’s leftist mayor on Saturday, condemning “all kinds of violence”.

The air in the Catalan capital was still heavy with a burning stench as municipal workers cleared the streets of broken glass, rocks and rubber bullets, and repaired pavements where bricks had been ripped out.

“All this is very sad, and is not helping our cause,” said Assumpcio Segui, a 75-year old pro-independence pensioner.

Around half a million people had rallied in Barcelona on Friday in the biggest gathering since Monday’s court ruling as separatists also called a general strike in the major tourist destination.

While most marchers appeared peaceful, hordes of young protesters went on the rampage near the police headquarters, igniting a huge blaze that sent plumes of black smoke into the air, as police fired teargas to disperse them, an AFP correspondent said.

Other fires raged near Plaza de Catalunya at the top of the tourist hotspot Las Ramblas, where hundreds of demonstrators rallied in defiance of the police, who tried to disperse them with water cannon.

‘Our Streets’

“Anti-fascist Catalonia!” they roared. “The streets will always be ours!”

Scores of police vans could be seen fanning out around the streets, their sirens screaming as the regional police warned people in a message in English on Twitter “not to approach” the city centre.

Earlier, many thousands of “freedom marchers”, who had set out to walk from five regional towns on Wednesday, arrived in Barcelona wearing walking boots and carrying hiking poles.

The rally coincided with the general strike, prompting the cancellation of flights, the closure of shops, business and several top tourist attractions, and slowing public transport to a trickle in a region that accounts for about a fifth of Spain’s economic output.

Activists also cut off Catalonia’s main cross-border highway with France.

‘No Surrender’

In downtown Barcelona, many shops and luxury outlets were closed on the city’s Paseo de Gracia, with blackened, charred patches a testimony to the nightly clashes that have raged since Monday.

“With these demonstrations bringing this large city to a halt, we are using Barcelona like a microphone,” said 23-year-old engineering student Ramon Pararada.

“It’s all in reaction to the injustice,” he said.

Retired lawyer Jaume Enrich said the court sentence was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.

“Madrid is putting Spanish unity above everything, including basic rights,” he told AFP, wearing a badge saying “No surrender”.

Spain’s top tourist destination, the Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona closed as protesters massed outside, and the Liceu opera house cancelled Friday night’s performance.

Spain’s Clasico Postponed

With the region mired in chaos, football authorities cancelled the Barcelona and Real Madrid Clasico set for October 26 at the Camp Nou stadium. Both clubs had reportedly refused an offer to hold the match in Madrid.

And Manchester City’s Catalan manager Pep Guardiola, an outspoken campaigner for the independence movement, urged European intervention to ease the crisis.

“The international community must help us to solve the conflict between Catalonia and Spain,” he said. “Some mediator from outside (must) help us sit (down) and talk.”

The Supreme Court’s explosive decision has thrust the Catalan dispute to the heart of the political debate as Spain heads towards a fourth election in as many years, which will be held on November 10.

Violent Clashes Worsen In Barcelona Between Protesters, Police

A protester throws an object in front of a burning barricade during clashes near the Police headquarters in Barcelona, on October 18, 2019, on the day that separatists have called a general strike and a mass rally. 
Josep LAGO / AFP

 

The tenors fell silent at Barcelona’s opera house on Friday where a performance of Turandot was cancelled as a general strike and mass protests brought Catalonia to a halt after Spain’s top court jailed nine separatist leaders.

On the fifth day of a massive mobilisation against Monday’s Supreme Court judgement, the operatic shutdown was a symbol for how the protests are impacting daily life in the region, and it’s economy.

As 14,000 striking students marched to the city centre, traffic was halted on at least seven regional highways and nine other major roads.

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Spanish carmaker Seat stopped production at its factory near Barcelona, which employs 6,500 people, and Barcelona’s most visited monument, the Sagrada Familia basilica, closed its doors after protesters massed outside.

And along the Paseo de Gracia, luxury boutiques were shuttered, the nearby patches of blackened tarmac a testimony to four days of running battles between police and protesters.

Alarm Bells

In this wealthy northeastern region which accounts for around a fifth of Spain’s GDP, the ongoing protests, the violence and Friday’s general strike have generated a flurry of warnings from business organisations.

And with at least six countries issuing travel warnings for visitors heading to Barcelona and the region, which is Spain’s biggest tourist draw, it has set alarm bells ringing about the economic impact of the separatist protests.

The unrest “will have a direct impact on tourism and business,” warned business association Barcelona Oberta, recalling the failed referendum of October 2017 when tourist arrivals fell by 5.0 percent and turnover fell between 5.0 and 10 percent in Spain’s most visited region.

Barcelona city council said Friday the first three days of clashes had cost an estimated 1,575,000 euros ($1,755,000) in damage, with more than 700 large wheelie bins torched and mob violence also damaging traffic lights, street signs, trees and the city’s bike-share service.

Two cruise ships run by German tour operator TUI, each carrying 2,500 people, cancelled a scheduled stopover this weekend, although 18 others were to arrive as planned, the port authorities said.

Accounting for around 20 percent of Spain’s GDP, Catalonia is heavily dependent on exports, with the CETM, which represents the transportation industry, predicting losses of 25 million euros per day due to roadblocks across the region.

Barcelona’s huge wholesale market Mercabarna, which exports around a third of the region’s fresh produce, was also trading at a much-reduced level on Friday, with many wholesalers and customers not showing up, a spokesman said.

And Barcelona’s hotels industry said images of the ongoing violence was likely to have a “serious” impact on its tourist industry.

“Such images are especially damaging for the reputation of the city around the world and could have a serious direct impact on tourist and hotel activity in Barcelona, as well as on its socio-economic status,” it said.

AFP

Messi Admits Tax Problems Made Him Want To Leave Barcelona

FILE PHOTO: Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi looks downwards during the Spanish league football match against Granada FC at Nuevo Los Carmenes stadium in Granada on September 21, 2019. PHOTO: JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

 

Lionel Messi has admitted he wanted to leave Barcelona when he was under investigation from the Spanish tax authorities but insists now he intends to finish his career at the club. 

In an interview with Catalan radio station RAC1, Messi also said he had expected Neymar to sign for Real Madrid last summer after Barca failed to strike an agreement with Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi and his father Jorge were found guilty of defrauding Spain of 4.1 million euros in taxes between 2007 and 2009, for which they paid close to 10 million euros and Messi was handed a 21-month suspended prison sentence.

Asked on Tuesday night if he had ever wanted to leave Barcelona, Messi said: “In 2013-14, when I started having the tax problems, it was very difficult for me and my family.”

“My children were young and we had a very bad time. At that time, I had it in mind to leave, not because I wanted to leave Barca but because I wanted to leave Spain. I felt mistreated and I didn’t want to be here anymore.”

The 32-year-old’s current contract expires in 2021 and Messi believes extending his deal “will not be a problem”.

“Today it is clearer that my idea is to finish here,” Messi said. “For how I am at the club, for what I feel, and for the family and the children and how settled we are in this city. I would not like to disrupt that.

“Of course anything can happen but in principle, the idea is to stay here.”

Messi began playing football aged six for Newell’s Old Boys, the Rosario club he supports in Argentina.

“I always dreamed of being able to play again for Newell’s and to have the experience of playing football in Argentina,” he said.

“But I have already told them that sometimes you have to think about what is best for your family.”

– No rift with Griezmann –

Messi was keen to be reunited with Neymar last summer but Barcelona were unable to agree a fee with PSG.

“I honestly thought at one time, especially in this market, that if he did not come here, he would go to Real Madrid Madrid because I thought he wanted to leave,” Messi said.

“I wanted Ney to come because as a footballer, he is one of the best in the world. He is unpredictable, different and having him in our team would have given us more options.”

Barcelona did sign Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid, despite him rejecting the Catalans the year before. Messi denies suggestions of a rift between him and the Frenchman.

“The first year when we wanted to sign Griezmann, I said he was one of the best and that the best are always welcome,” Messi said. “I have never had problem with him coming. So it’s a lie.”

Messi also offered his support to Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde, who has been under pressure after a bumpy start to the season followed the team’s Champions League collapse against Liverpool in May.

“It was not the coach’s fault but it was also not my decision for him to stay,” Messi said. “The club decided Valverde would continue and for me that was a joy, good for stability and he is a coach we support and love.

“If another coach comes, we will be with him. To achieve success, we all have to be united.”

Messi scored his first goal of the season in a 4-0 thrashing of Sevilla on Sunday, after two months spoiled by calf and thigh injuries.

“I’m still a bit short but I’m feeling better,” Messi said. “My legs hurt against Sevilla but it’s what happens when you come back. I’m getting closer.”

ta/cw