MADRID, Spain, January 7 – Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has called club elections for the end of the season in a bid to “ease the tension” surrounding the embattled Catalan club.
Bartomeu took over as president a year ago after Sandro Rossell resigned following the controversy over the signing of Brazilian striker Neymar which led to the club being accused of tax fraud.
The current board’s mandate was due to run until 2016, but Bartomeu has come under fire in recent weeks after Barca’s appeal against a one-year transfer ban by FIFA for irregularities in the signing of players under the age of 16 was rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
On Monday, Bartomeu sacked sporing director Andoni Zubizarreta and former captain Carles Puyol resigned from his position as Zubizarreta’s assistant.
coach Luis Enrique insisted he had no regrets over his handling of the Catalans’ star-studded squad this season amid reports his relationship with Lionel Messi is at breaking point.
Enrique left the four-time World Player of the Year on the bench for Barca’s 1-0 defeat to Real Sociedad on Sunday and wanted to discipline the Argentine after he missed an open training session with the club’s fans on Monday citing a stomach bug, according to Barcelona sports daily Sport.
“I don’t have anything to regret at the moment with any of my players. Every coach has to manage his squad as he sees fit. The primary objective is to win titles and we are on that road,” Enrique said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“I am not going to confirm or deny these stories or supposed stories that appear because they are too varied and there are too many of them.
“What I have to do is do my job the best I can and in the manner I think is best for the team and the club.”
Barca are still very much alive in three competitions as they sit just one point adrift of La Liga leaders Real Madrid, albeit having also played a game more, and face Elche and Manchester City respectively in the last 16 of the Copa del Rey and Champions League.
Enrique denied that he had been given an ultimatum by Bartomeu that his job would be on the line if they don’t beat Spanish champions Atletico Madrid at home on Sunday.
However, he claimed that the sacking of Zubizarreta had weakened his position.
“The future of a coach always depends on results, that is the first thing they teach us on coaching courses,” he added.
“I feel I have the backing of the club and the players.”
The root of Barca’s meltdown in recent days started when Messi and Brazilian stars Neymar and Dani Alves were given two extra days off than the rest of the squad during the winter break.
All three players returned to Spain just 48 hours before Barca’s match in San Sebastian and were among nearly 300 million euros worth of talent left on the sidelines by Enrique, also including Ivan Rakitic and Gerard Pique.
The former Roma boss repeated his belief that Messi is the best player in the world, but said there were certain rules which all his squad had to abide by.
“In the same way that I don’t treat all my children the same, I don’t treat all my players in the same way. That would be a mistake, but there are rules for everyone.”