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FC Barcelona: In crisis both on and off the pitch

Tobias Oelmaier (dpa, SID, AP)
March 2, 2021

Barcelona are in the headlines for the wrong reasons, with the club's former president having been arrested. That Josep Maria Bartomeu has since been released will do nothing to solve the many crises the club is facing.

Josep Maria Bartomeu stepped down as Barcelona president last October
Josep Maria Bartomeu stepped down as Barcelona president last OctoberImage: picture-alliance/dpa

FC Barcelona can't be a fun place to be around these days. 

Having lost 4-1 at home to Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their round-of-16 Champions League clash, turning things around in France is looking like a very tall order. Things aren't looking much better for them in the Copa del Rey, where they will look to reverse a 2-0 deficit against Sevilla in the second leg of their semifinal. And sitting in third place in La Liga, five points behind league leaders Atletico Madrid is way short of Barca's usual high standards.

Off the pitch, the rumors about superstar Lionel Messi planning to leave the club just won't stop — and the club has amassed well over €1 billion $1.2 billion) in debt, of which €730 million are current liabilities.

As if all this wasn't enough, there is now legal trouble. On Monday, police searched the club's offices at the Camp Nou stadium as well as a number of private residences. They arrested four people, including Josep Maria Bartomeu, who was the club's president between 2014 and 2020. After appearing before a judge, Bartomeu was released on Tuesday, along with his former adviser Jaume Masferrer. The court said both men had "exercised their right not to give a statement" in court.


Monday's raids were in connection with what's been dubbed by the Spanish media as the "Barcagate" affair in which some club officials were accused of launching a smear campaign against current and former players who were critical of the club and then-president Bartomeu. A PR agency is said to have been paid a million euros to publish posts on social media as part of the campaign. 

According to a report broadcast by radio station "Cadena Ser" in February 2020, the aggrieved parties included Messi and his wife as well as team captain Gerard Pique. Bartomeu has said the agency had actually been hired to monitor media appearances. Now the financial crimes department is looking into alleged corruption and "unfair administration." 

Bartomeu stepped down as Barca president in October under pressure from fans and media over a very public falling out with Messi. The fact that Messi's contract runs until the end of the season meant that Bartomeu was able to deny the superstar's wish to leave last summer, but in so doing he damaged his own reputation, not just with Messi but also with many supporters. When this season ends, the superstar will be free to leave on a free transfer – with Paris rumored to be a likely destination for the 33-year-old Argentine. 

Return of a former president?

With all of the club's current woes, the next president of the 26-time Spanish champions, who is to be elected this Sunday, will have his work cut out for him. The favorite is said to be Joan Laporta, who held the post from 2003 to 2010. Asked for his reaction to the arrest of the man he is hoping to succeed, Laporta said the news was "shocking'' and "not good" for the club. But he also noted that former President Bartomeu but noted that the former president was entitled to the "presumption of innocence.''

Adaptation: Chuck Penfold