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Lionel Messi in Chelsea link as Barcelona boss denies row

By Robert Jones

Barcelona coach Luis Enrique has described reports of a rift with Lionel Messi as "inaccurate and ill-intentioned" and said he has the backing of all the players in his squad.

Reports of disagreements and heated exchanges between the pair have been widely aired in Spain, while rumours of a move to Chelsea have grown with Catalan radio station RAC1 saying the club has contacted the player's father and agent Jorge and would be prepared to pay Messi's €250m buy-out clause.

Senior members of Barcelona's squad met Messi before training yesterday to discuss his dissatisfaction with Enrique, who took over as manager in May but has struggled to keep pace with Real Madrid.

"I have the same relationship with all the players since the start of the season," Enrique said yesterday. "Obviously we know each other better now but there is no change in the relationship.

"I feel I have the support of the club and the players. I have no doubt about that. I continue my work with the same professionalism as before and I am not here to deny stories.

"I am not going to comment about all the different media reports about what has supposed to have taken place. There are so many varied reports which are inaccurate and ill-intentioned," added the coach.

Messi and Enrique were reported to have argued in training last Friday and again after Sunday's defeat at Real Sociedad, when Messi was unhappy about being left out of the starting line-up.

Enrique felt the player was not ready to start, having only returned to training on Friday following his Christmas break.

On Monday, Messi then failed to attend a public training session and also a hospital visit to see sick children due to an illness.

Meanwhile, Barcelona will call for early elections at the end of the season but have no intention of seeing Messi or Enrique leave the club any time soon.

Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu announced his decision to bring the elections forward by 12 months in order to recover "stability" at the club after growing media reports of friction in the changing room and in the board room in recent times.

"We have decided to call elections at the end of the season in order to reduce the tension that the club is experiencing and suffering from," Bartomeu said. "I will be standing.

"I believe the tension the club is experiencing is disproportionate and it does not adjust in any way to the club's reality. To bring forward the elections by a year will help bring stability. I ask for fair play to all the candidates that will stand in the election."

Bartomeu denied reports that Messi is considering leaving the club.

"I see Messi very happy at Barcelona," Bartomeu said.

"They are all motivated. Messi is our leader and we want him to continue.

"What would I do if an offer arrives? There's no issue. Messi has put his trust in Barca, he is the best player in the world."

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