BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – Xavi Hernandez has labeled criticism of Lionel Messi's form for Argentina as ''exaggerated'' after the World Player of the Year's poor showing at the Copa America.
Messi's Barcelona teammate dismissed claims the Argentina forward cannot operate without his presence in midfield.
''Like all football players, Messi depends on the collective. I depend on Messi and Messi on me and all of his teammates. We are lucky to have an extraordinary collective,'' Xavi said Wednesday. ''People are very glum and like to blame the world's best player.''
Messi, who scored 53 goals for Barcelona last season, failed to score for his country for the second straight major championship as Argentina exited the South American championship in the quarterfinals to Uruguay. He was also scoreless at last year's World Cup when Argentina went out at the same stage.
''All these criticisms have been exaggerated,'' Xavi said. ''He had a fantastic Copa America but the way Argentina exited makes it easy to blame the best.''
Xavi welcomed news that Barcelona was set to sign Chile forward Alexis Sanchez from Udinese and that the European champions were negotiating with Arsenal for Cesc Fabregas. Xavi apologized to Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger after saying Fabregas was ''suffering' due to the prolonged transfer saga of Fabregas returning to his boyhood club that has dragged on for three summers.
Wenger said Xavi had been ''very disrespectful'' with his comments.
''He's an Arsenal player, of course, and he has a contract. I'm not going to start up a war of words, that seems absurd to me,'' the Spain international said. ''I was only looking out for the interests of Cesc and Barcelona and we all know Cesc has this desire to come here.''
Xavi, who arrived at preseason training with a slight pain in his calf muscle, expects the three-time defending Spanish champions to be the favorites in all competitions come the new season.
''All teams in Spain and in Europe are preparing hard to beat Barcelona,'' he said. ''We won the league, the Champions League and today we're the reference for football so for all of these reasons we have to be well prepared.''