Louis van Gaal insists “individual player” Lionel Messi must take some of the blame for Barcelona’s Champions League struggles.
Barca have repeatedly failed in Europe, with the last two exits coming after Messi and his team-mates have built up convincing leads at home to Roma in the quarter-final first leg in 2018, and again against Liverpool in this year’s semi-final.
Ernesto Valverde has come under fire following those surrenders but former Barca boss Van Gaal reckons Messi and the rest of the squad should carry the can too.
“I like Messi as an individual player. He is the best individual player in the world because his statistics are amazing,” said the ex-Man Utd manager in an interview with El Pais.
“But why has he not won the Champions League since four years ago? Why?
“As a captain, you must ask yourself why the team does not win in Europe.
“Barca has a wonderful squad. You can not say that [Ivan] Rakitic is bad, or that [Philippe] Coutinho is bad, or that [Jordi] Alba is a bad player, or [Marc-Andre] Ter Stegen is a bad goalie, or Arthur or [Arturo] Vidal (are bad).
“I think Messi is also responsible for what is happening in Barcelona, not just the coach. Players have a substantial part of responsibility for what happens on the team.”
Van Gaal was impressed with what he saw from Liverpool in the Champions League and during the season overall after Jurgen Klopp tweaked his approach.
The Dutchman also had praise for James Milner.
“In the final of the Champions League, Milner played as a defender and as a midfielder. It’s great that he can offer that at 33,” said the 67-year-old.
“The forwards? Everyone plays for the team. [Mohamed] Salah, [Roberto] Firmino and [Sadio] Mané work very hard in defence because [Jurgen] Klopp wants to press.
“He saw the light a few months ago: 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 side, where he learned that sometimes you have to hold a little bit, collect your lines and counterattack.
“That is good for Salah, Mane and Firmino because they are very quick to take advantage of the spaces behind the rival defence.”