'Injuries a smokescreen' for punished Barça players

Barcelona are publicising injuries to hide the fact that players have been dropped for indiscipline, a high-ranking club official said yesterday.

The comments were made hours before the Catalans were due to play the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Schalke 04 and are certain to increase tension at the club following a poor run of results.

"Look at these gentlemen who aren't working, who aren't doing anything, who haven't played for quite a few weeks. Well, they were sidelined by the club some weeks ago," the president of the club's economic commission, Xavier Sala Martin, told Catalunya Radio.

"Although we are disguising things by saying there are injuries and all that, these gentlemen have been sidelined and they are trying to isolate them from the rest of the squad."

Sala Martin is not on the board of directors but his position as the head of the economic commission puts him in charge of the club during a presidential election, as in 2006.

Barcelona said they had no immediate comment.

Sala Martin refused to name the players in question, but his comments will only fuel recent speculation surrounding the injured international midfielders, Ronaldinho and Deco, who have been absent from the squad in recent weeks.

The Brazilian Ronaldinho, who has been linked with a move to Manchester City by the media, was out of action for a month with an unspecified injury and pulled a leg muscle as he was about to return to action last week. He is expected to miss the rest of the season.

The Portuguese Deco has been out since last month with a calf injury.

Sala Martin defended the rest of the Barcelona squad, saying that they should not be tarred with the same brush as any players involved in incidents of indiscipline.

"It is unfair because of the behaviour of one, two or three who are partying all day and that only go to 22 training sessions out of 60, [to say] that all the players are being lazy," he said.

Barcelona fans voiced their discontent with angry protests against the president, Joan Laporta, the players and the coach, Frank Rijkaard, after a goalless draw at home to Getafe on Sunday.