Barcelona’s Lionel Messi a hair-raising sight for Sam Allardyce

Barcelona's Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during training

No sooner was Sam Allardyce enthroned as England manager than the planet’s most celebrated team of soccer artistes appeared in the home of English football.

Coincidence? Well yes, obviously. On Tuesday Barcelona were training at St George’s Park in Burton upon Trent, where they are spending this week before the friendly with Celtic in Dublin on Saturday. Lionel Messi sported a new look, possibly ensuring that something of him will rub off on the place, even if it is only peroxide dye on the hotel pillows.

Messi and Luis Suárez, the two superstars in a Barcelona travelling party made up mainly of fringe players, limbered up side by side during the few minutes of training journalists were allowed to watch. The club made it clear that neither will be available for interview, but perhaps that does not preclude a fascinating meeting of minds: Allardyce will be at St George’s Park for most of the week as he plots the way forward for England. He plans to spend most of the next few days assembling his backroom staff but if he gets a chance to attend one of Barcelona’s sessions, who knows what kind of cross-fertilisation could occur? Barça are in the Position of Maximum Opportunity to learn all about the case for a fearsome target man.

A couple of Barcelona’s younger players, meanwhile, put on a short seminar on how to defuse loaded questions from mischievous English journalists. The 20-year-old forward Munir El Haddadi was asked: “Who is the real Special One, José Mourinho or Pep Guardiola?” and replied: “Luis Enrique.” The 22-year-old attacker Denis Suárez was then invited to assess Messi’s new look. “It’s a top haircut for a top player, what more can I say?” he said with a chortle. Not that Munir and Suárez always take the easy options: the pair are intent on rising to what is perhaps the biggest challenge in world football – to secure a regular starting place ahead of Messi, Luis Suárez or Neymar.

Denis Suárez could have been at Tottenham Hotspur instead. Spurs were one of several Premier League clubs to express an interest in buying him from Villarreal this summer but he chose Barça. Having said that he enjoyed the two years he spent at Manchester City between 2011 and 2013 before joining Barcelona for the first time, the player believes he could have made an impact in England.

He could also have stayed in Villarreal, where he excelled last season in what was his first campaign as a regular starter in a senior team. But he chose instead to return to the Camp Nou, having left there last year to join Villarreal. Barcelona, unlike Manchester United with Paul Pogba, included a clause in his contract that allowed them to buy the player back for a £2.7m, and they chose to exercise it in June.

“It wasn’t really a difficult decision,” he said. “The chance to play for Barcelona is so strong that I had to return, to take advantage of that opportunity to come back to try my best. I had the opportunity to return to England but my main aim was always Barcelona. It was always my ambition to come back. I have a lot of confidence in my ability – why else would I return? I’ll do my best to get into that team. I’ll play wherever the coach plays me.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Paul Doyle, for The Guardian on Tuesday 26th July 2016 22.30 Europe/London

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