More chaos at Barcelona as six directors quit

By Richard Martin
Copa del Rey - Semifinal First Leg - FC Barcelona v Real Madrid

By Richard Martin

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Six directors of Spanish La Liga champions Barcelona have quit in the latest turmoil within the club hierarchy that fans and players including Lionel Messi are increasingly frustrated at.

The board members' protest deepened chaos at the world's richest club, hit by plunging revenues from the coronavirus crisis, online controversy and protests in the last games before soccer was suspended.

The departing directors criticised the club's handling of a social media scandal and expressed doubts about the board's ability to handle the implications of the pandemic, which has led to a 70% players' pay cut.

Two of the club's four vice presidents, Emili Rousaud and Enrique Tombas, were among those to announce their resignation in a letter to fans published in Spanish media on Friday.

They were joined by directors Silvio Elias, Josep Pont, Jordi Calsamiglia and Maria Texidor.

They asked president Josep Maria Bartomeu to call presidential elections and voiced "displeasure" over the club's hiring of a third party, I3 Ventures, earlier this year to monitor social media coverage of Barca.

Bartomeu has denied accusations the company created social media accounts to smear future presidential candidates, and former and current players, but he anyway rescinded the club's contract with the firm. I3 also denied any wrongdoing.

"We have arrived at this point because we cannot reverse the way the club is managed in the face of important challenges in the future, especially in the post-pandemic era," added the letter.


BARCA RESPOND

In a statement, Barca said the resignations were the consequence of a board reshuffle led by Bartomeu.

"This restucturing is designed so the board can see through the final spell of its mandate with maximum strength, so it can implement necessary measures to prepare the club for the future and overcome the consequences of the health crisis," it said.

The club denied an accusation by one of the departing directors that I3, which Bartomeu had said received 1 million euros ($1.1 million), was overpaid.

Barca's annual revenues last year were 841 million euros ($914 million), according to Deloitte. They have won eight of the last 11 La Liga titles and led the standings when soccer in Spain was indefinitely postponed last month.

Spain has suffered one of the worst outbreaks of the COVID-19 disease in the world, with 15,238 deaths and more than 150,000 cases.

Barcelona players, including all-time top scorer Messi, have taken an additional pay cut to guarantee non-playing staff will receive full salaries.

The six-times world player of the year keeps a low profile off the pitch, but has been outspoken against the club's hierarchy recently.

Last month, he took issue with what he perceived as pressure from board members to accept the club's imposed pay cut.

"It does not cease to surprise us that from within the club there were those who tried to put us under the magnifying glass and tried to add pressure to do something that we always knew we would do," Messi said.

Fans staged noisy protests against Bartomeu in the last two matches at the Camp Nou. He has been Barca's president since 2014 but is unable to stand again as he has served two terms.

An election must be held by the summer of 2021.


(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)