Spanish La Liga champions Barcelona were in turmoil on Friday after six directors quit in the latest unravelling of the club’s hierarchy that fans and players are increasingly angry at.
The board members’ protest deepened chaos at the world’s richest club, hit by plunging revenues during the coronavirus crisis, fan protests in the last games before soccer was suspended, and even criticism from club captain Lionel Messi.
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 as soon as possible 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created social media accounts to smear future presidential candidates and former and current players, but he anyway rescinded the club’s contract with the firm.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.
“As our last act of service to the club, we recommend that elections are called as soon as circumstances permit so that the club can be managed in the best way possible and deal with the important challenges of the immediate future.”
There was no immediate reaction from Barcelona or Bartomeu.
Barca 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 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 while soccer is paused.
The six-times world player of the year is known for keeping a low-profile off the pitch, but has been outspoken against the club’s hierarchy recently.
In January he took issue with sporting director Eric Abidal for suggesting some players had not trained hard enough under former coach Ernesto Valverde. Abidal later said he regretted speaking about players in the media.
In the aftermath of the social media scandal, Messi talked about players having to deal with “problem after problem” and last month 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,” he said.
Bartomeu has also faced increasing criticism from supporters, who staged noisy protests against him in the last two matches at the Camp Nou and called for his resignation.
Bartomeu has been Barca’s president since 2014 but is unable to stand for re-election as he has served two terms. Elections must be held by the summer of 2021.