Inside Barcelona football club, a vipers nest of political infighting with Bartomeu the latest president behind bars

BARCELONA is more than just a club – it's a basket case.

And it's not just Lionel Messi, it's a plain old mess. Never mind total football – it's a total disaster.


Josep Maria Bartomeu, 58, the outgoing club president, woke up in a Barcelona police station near the Nou Camp on Tuesday morning and then appeared in court facing allegations linked to the 'Barcagate' affair.

Early last year the club was accused of paying over-the-odds to a social media company to plant negative stories about key club figures including talisman and club captain Messi.

The jibes included digs about his hesitancy in agreeing a new deal, while other alleged targets of I3 Ventures in the smear campaign included Gerard Pique's bid to revamp the Davis Cup.

There were also attacks against club legends Xavi and Pep Guardiola.

It was said that the £830,000 campaign's main aim was 'to protect the reputation of President Josep Maria Bartomeu'.

If so, then it backfired big time.

The club denied the allegations at the time but eight club members filed an official complaint, which has been ongoing for months.

And police raided the plush offices where senior club officials work at the Camp Nou on Monday.

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Bartomeu and three former senior executives were arrested at their homes.

Emili Peroni is a member of Dignitat Blaugrana, the group that filed the complaint against Bartomeu and others for 'unfair administration and corruption'.

He told Caden SER: "I think the media should start talking about 'BartoGate'and not 'BarcaGate'.

"I'm surprised that everything came out a few days before the elections. I consider it unnecessary."

Indeed, Barca is a vipers nest of political infighting at the best of times.

And elections for the next president will be held on March 7, because Bartomeu and his entire board of directors stepped down in October – before a vote of confidence would surely have booted them out anyway.

Being spanked 3-1 at home by Real Madrid was the pair of soiled football boots that finally broke the camel's back, but the club was already reeling from the late summer saga of Messi handing in a transfer request.

Messi thought he had a gentlemen's agreement with Bartomeu to leave for free at the end of last season.

It turned out he didn't and, actually, was contractually obliged to stay – largely because the club said he hadn't exercised a release clause in time – and never mind the mess Covid-19 had made of last season's fixtures.

For Messi to extricate himself, it would have required a painful legal fight – which he may well have lost anyway. So he stayed.

This was after a long list of cock-ups in the Bartomeu-era, kicking off with a monster one in 2017 when Neymar was sold to PSG.

To be fair, though, Neymar did activate his own buyout clause and the club had not wanted him to go.

But Barca then paid vast amounts of money for players that didn't quite live up to their price tags.

They spent £145million on Philippe Coutinho, £138m on Ousmane Dembele and they met Atletico Madrid's £107m buyout clause for Antoine Griezmann in 2019.

All three of them stuffed into one shirt wouldn't touch what Neymar did on the left wing as Barcelona's No11.

In yet another blunder by Barca's bonkers boardroom at the end of last season, the third prong of the fabled MSN – Messi, Suarez and Neymar – treble-winning trident was allowed to sign for LaLiga rivals Atletico Madrid on a freebie.

And Luis Suarez has been doing what he does best: scoring goals.

Atleti are currently top of the table, five points ahead of Barca, helped out, of course, by Suarez's 16 goals. All the while Griezmann has only scored six for Barca.

Messi was furious with how the club handled the departure of his best Barca buddy.

They are genuinely close personal friends outside of work, living across the street from each other in the Barcelona seaside suburb of Castelldefels.

Their kids often play together and go to the same school, their wives even get along.

And it was this that led to Messi 'faxing' the club his transfer request in August.

Bartomeu also sacked manager Ernesto Valverde in January last year even though Barca were reining LaLiga champions and were actually top of the league.

The club then appointed some bloke few had ever heard of called Quique Setien – mostly because Xavi didn't want the job (not yet, not while Bartomeu was running things at least).

Another Bartomeu appointee, sporting director Eric Abidal, then accused Messi and his team-mates of 'not working hard' and, effectively, getting Valverde the sack.

In an almost endless list of cockups, the club also implied last summer that the players were resisting a wage cut that was vital due to the pandemic. It wasn't true.

On both those occasions, the usually reticent club skipper Messi was forced to fight back with public statements.

So, now the outgoing president has been arrested. And, if recent Barca history is anything to go by, his prospects could be bleak.

Two of his predecessors as president, Sandro Rosell and Josep Nunez, went to jail on corruption charges.

Barca prides itself on its non-corporate structure, on being 'more than just a club' and nothing like Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United et al.

For good or ill, the Barca fans own the club and have a say in who runs it.

While Bartomeu appeared in court, the three candidates in Sunday's vote for the next president, which had been delayed by Covid-19, were holding a debate within the Nou Camp grounds.

The frontrunner is Joan Laporta, who was previously president from 2003 to 2010.

He appointed then-Barca B coach Pep Guardiola as manager and saw the rise of Messi.

Rosell followed Laporta into the presidency, before he resigned in 2014 over a financial controversy involving the signing of Neymar.

Then came his confidante, Bartomeu.

Ricard Faura, spokesman for Dignitat Blaugrana, told Radio MARCA: "Bartomeu inherited the best Barca in history and will leave one of the worst in history."

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