Barcelona's Xavi Hernandez says the widely reported row between team superstar Lionel Messi and coach Luis Enrique in early January has "zero importance" except to show how much everyone at the club cares about winning.
The bust-up during a training game came just after the return from La Liga's winter break, and quickly blew up into a media storm that Messi himself helped fuel by suggesting he did not know where he would be playing next season.
Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu initially denied that anything had happened, although neither Luis Enrique nor Messi would confirm nor deny what had happened. Apparent confirmation did come however via teammate Jeremy Mathieu in comments on French radio after last Wednesday's turbulent Copa del Rey game at Atletico Madrid.
The first senior Barca figure to speak in public after Mathieu's comments told a news conference that neither the incident, nor the public confirmation, would have any affect on Barca's spirit of togetherness.
"These are situations which happen over the season, and can happen in any group of people," Xavi said. "There are tense situations when you want to win. It has zero importance. The issue is closed. We are all united inside and we are all motivated. There is a fantastic atmosphere. Mathieu's words will not affect anything. That was solved at the time, and that's it."
Such minor incidents during training took place all time in atmospheres where all involved were highly motivated winners, Xavi said.
"It will happen again with other teammates, other coaches," he said. "It was given the importance it warranted -- and that is zero. We all want to win. There are moments of tension and intensity. It has happened 200 times and in all dressing-rooms. It is good that it happens, as everyone wants to win, to feel important and to be plugged-in."
The veteran playmaker also tried to play down the controversy over Neymar's performance at the Estadio Vicente Calderon on Wednesday night, when the Brazilian scored twice but also drew some physical attention from opponents who claimed they had been provoked by his style of play and comments on the pitch.
"Neymar is an extraordinary player," Xavi said. "He makes the difference, he has very skilfull play. He dribbles and will get kicked, rough play. He is happy and that must be accepted. All this seems a bit exaggerated to me. He is a great player -- it depends on himself, but he will be among the world's best players, if he is not already."
Xavi did speak of his disbelief that Atletico midfielder Arda Turan had escaped a red card during that game after he apparently hurled his boot at a linesman in frustration during play.
"It surprises me [that Arda was just shown a yellow], it is a clear red-card offence," he said. "But the committees are there to make these judgements. The players do not lay down the punishments. From my position it was a red. There are some actions which clamour from heaven."
The 3-1 win over Atletico sealed a 4-2 progression to the Copa semifinals, where Barca will now face in-form Villarreal -- who are also the visitors at the Camp Nou in La Liga on Sunday.
"We are happy as we have qualified against a great opponent," Xavi said. "Villarreal are on a long run of games unbeaten. It will be a very difficult tie for us. Maybe we are favourites, but we have to make good on that. We are happy with how we are physically, happy with what we are doing."
Barca have now won their last seven games in all competitions, since the 1-0 loss at Real Sociedad in early January while the reported tensions between Luis Enrique and Messi were simmering. Xavi denied there had been any big change in Barca's form, accusing Camp Nou -based pundits and reporters of generally going over the top with all their reactions.
"We had La Real penned back in the second half, over the 90 minutes we played a good game, but whenever Barca lose a game there is a drama," he said. "Nothing has changed, just the results. Everything in this place depends on the result, all the analysis. We were not so bad before, nor are we so good now. But we are on a good path and that benefits the club, the group."