Eto'o makes peace with Valentine's hug for Ronaldinho

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The influence of Saint Valentine extended to Barcelona's training ground yesterday when Samuel Eto'o and Ronaldinho made a public display of reconciliation in an attempt to ease the controversy surrounding the club.

Eto'o had angrily criticised his Brazilian team-mate and coach Frank Rijkaard on Tuesday after the Dutchman said he had refused to come on as a substitute in Sunday's 2-0 win against Racing Santander. He also reacted angrily to comments by Ronaldinho about the team always coming first by making a veiled threat to the Brazilian.

Yet by yesterday, as the sun crept over the Nou Camp to brighten the adjacent training field, the pair embraced in an attempt to diffuse a problem that has undermined Barça's preparation ahead of Sunday's league game against Valencia and next Wednesday's Champions League clash with Liverpool.

Carles Puyol, the Barcelona captain who had been angered by Eto'o's behaviour, attempted to play down the arguments after meeting with the pair.

"Eto'o was the first player in the dressing room at 8.45am and the captains of the team [Puyol and deputy Xavi] spoke to him and Ronaldinho because it was an important enough matter to talk over together," Puyol said after a training session he described as "one of the best since I've been at the club".

"Ronaldinho's comments were misinterpreted," added Puyol, who had been urged by President Joan Laporta to find a solution. "When they both met today it was clear that Ronaldinho did not want to criticise Eto'o. Eto'o also has no problem with Rijkaard.

"I can assure you that the whole matter has now been solved. People think that there is a time-bomb in the dressing room, but that isn't true. Rijkaard has got the team under control. Eto'o has a good relationship with the rest of the group and the atmosphere is good. We need to be even more together now as we have got a difficult set of matches coming up.

"Outside the dressing room there may be divisions but not inside," Puyol concluded, in reference to disputes between Laporta and his former deputy Sandro Rosell.

Rijkaard and sporting director Txiki Begiristain met last night to discuss the matter, before the pair appeared together at a news conference, where Begiristain said that Eto'o would not be punished for his comments and that "a difficult situation has now been resolved". Many Barça observers remain unconvinced, however, with the Catalan media speculating that the rivalry could force one of them to leave at the end of the season.

Eto'o, who is returning after a four-month absence with a knee injury, claimed he had refused to come on against Santander because he needed to warm up for a longer period. He added he was a doubt for next week's 94,000 sell-out game against Liverpool in the Nou Camp.

"My knee is a bit strange at the moment and I can't guarantee that I will be ready," he said.