Speculation in Spain that Lionel Messi's relationship with Barcelona coach Luis Enrique is beyond repair continues to grow after the Camp Nou star trained alone just 24 hours after the club said he missed Monday's open session for fans due to a "tummy bug."
Barca' star player and coach are believed to have argued both before and after Sunday's 1-0 La Liga defeat at Real Sociedad.
Widespread reports in Spain say Enrique wanted to fine Messi for Monday's no-show, but was persuaded by senior players including Xavi Hernandez not to make a big deal of the incident, and the club allegedly used the excuse of gastroenteritis to attempt to cover for his absence.
The issue is so serious that Wednesday's cover of Catalan daily Sport read: "Rupture -- Luis Enrique and Messi do not even talk."
¡Buenos días! Aquí os dejamos nuestra portada de este miércoles: "Ruptura" pic.twitter.com/8NmoBcmIJJ
- Diario SPORT (@sport) January 7, 2015
In Madrid, AS claims that the four-time Ballon d'Or winner, who continues to be linked with Premier League giants Chelsea and Manchester City, has already given a "He goes or I go" ultimatum to Blaugrana president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
Messi had recovered sufficiently to come to Barca's training ground on Tuesday, when the rest of the squad had the day off. He was also at training on Wednesday morning, when Xavi and other senior players Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets were reportedly due to talk with their teammate and try and ease the tension.
El Pais says that Enrique's policy of not building a close relationship with individual players has been hard to take for Messi, who was very carefully handled by former bosses Pep Guardiola, Tito Vilanova and Gerardo Martino.
Other figures who were shared the 27-year-old's outlook, including experienced kitman Txema Corbella and Argentine physiologist Marcelo D'Andrea, are no longer around.
The issue comes amid the latest institutional chaos at the Camp Nou, with Bartomeu firing sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta on Monday, and his assistant Carles Puyol then deciding to leave the club apparently in sympathy with his friend and colleague.
However, former Barca president Joan Gaspart said on Al Partido de las 12 radio show that he believed the problems between the duo were not as bad as the reports suggested.
"I do not believe that the relationship between Messi and the coach is bad," Gaspart said. "I will believe it when Messi or Luis Enrique tell me personally.
"I am going to sleep very relaxed that my great superstar, the man I signed myself, Leo Messi, and Luis Enrique are good companions and the only differences are the typical ones which I experienced in 25 years as a Barcelona director.
"I do not believe they are unhappy, or fighting. If they are it would be for a small matter, which I do not even believe."
Gaspart said he believed Enrique's future as Barcelona coach would be decided in the long-term by results on the pitch, and not by his day-to-day relationship with his squad.
"I am sure that Luis Enrique will fulfil his contract, but I must recognise that [for] any coach in world football depends a lot on results," he added. "Anyway, to think about getting rid of a coach who is one point off the Liga leader, through to the last 16 of Champions League and Copa del Rey is a lot."