Lionel Messi has had his conduct questioned after quotes published by Spanish site El Confidencial suggested that the Argentine insults and bullies his team-mates.
Widely regarded as the world’s best footballer, Messi has been accused in the past of not being the ideal team man, and the latest quotes - if accurate - could indicate that the Argentine struggles to control his anger towards other players at the club.
The story - headlined "the true face of Messi" - was allegedly filtered out via Spain U19 stars Alejandro Grimaldo and Gerard Deulofeu, and claims that the unrest in the Barcelona dressing room has been kept firmly under wraps previously due to a Mafia-style 'omerta' – a law of silence.
Messi's "favourite victim at the moment" is said to be Spanish 22-year-old Cristian Tello, to whom Messi has apparently delivered such gems as "What are you doing? You're new here, and you're nobody!" and "Pass me the ball, you're here to play for me."
Tello was allegedly left in tears after these exchanges, a situation which the report claims was made even worse by the fact that the other players in the changing room blanked him even when he broke into the first team.
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Messi is also reported to have attacked Chilean striker Alexis Sanchez, who signed from Udinese for 37 million euros in 2011, saying, "Considering how bad you are, I've no idea how you cost so much," and, "Stop shooting so much and give me the ball."
The story remains firmly in the ‘unconfirmed’ bracket, and even if Messi did use the language in question it's certainly easy enough to imagine that he did so with tongue firmly in cheek, in the spirit of training ground banter.
But Eurosport Spain’s journalist Jorge Ordas says it’s not unusual for such reports to emerge regarding Messi's standing within the squad.
"Well, it’s not the first time that it has been said Messi that is not a good team-mate," Ordas said.
"He had some troubles with David Villa last year and he probably has a special personality.
"But honestly, I can’t imagine Leo Messi saying that to other players – that is just my opinion."