Josep Maria Bartomeu resigned as Barcelona president on Tuesday, along with his board of directors, and left with a bombshell admission that he had accepted a proposal for the club to play in “a future European Super League”.
Bartomeu’s departure comes following mounting pressure from fans and his public falling-out with Lionel Messi.
His resignation could affect the future of Messi, who will now be given a new project after trying to leave in August.
“I want to communicate my resignation along with the rest of the board,” said Bartomeu in an official announcement. “It’s a composed and relaxed decision, agreed with all my fellow directors.”
However, it was his revelation about a Super League which seems certain to make the biggest waves beyond Catalonia.
Bartomeu said he accepted a proposal on Monday for Barcelona to play in “a future European Super League” which “would guarantee the financial stability of the club”.
Earlier this month, Barcelona announced losses of €97 million ($114 million) for last season, with debt more than doubling to €488 million.
‘Weak and imaginary competition’
Bartomeu and his board could even be held personally liable for the financial shortfall, which could be why he was keen to present a Super League as their money-making solution.
La Liga president Javier Tebas tweeted: “Unfortunate statement from Bartomeu on his last day about Barcelona joining a weak and imaginary competition which would be their ruin. It confirms his ignorance about the football industry.”
An election for Bartomeu’s successor will take place within three months, with an interim board taking charge in the meantime.
The position of Ronald Koeman, appointed coach in August, becomes more uncertain. A new president could bring in their own coach, either immediately or at the end of the season.
Bartomeu’s six-year tenure saw a dramatic decline in the performances of the team, culminating in the 8-2 defeat by Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League.
He then oversaw Messi, the club’s greatest ever player, trying to leave for free.
Bartomeu’s resignation means avoiding a vote of no confidence, which had been triggered after over 20,000 Barcelona members signed a petition for him to be removed.
Attempts to delay the vote, including launching an investigation into false signatures and referring to problems caused by coronavirus, were rejected by the local government in Catalonia, with Bartomeu quitting on Tuesday following a board meeting.
He said the local government’s decision was “irresponsible” and cited the vote as the cause of his resignation in the context of the health crisis.
Bartomeu said: “We cannot and do not want to be in the situation of having to choose between protecting health and exercising the vote.”
But his departure had long been a possibility after a series of political blunders created anger and distrust between the board and players.
Messi reacted angrily in January to suggestions the players were to blame for the sacking of coach Ernesto Valverde and then criticised the board in March over their handling of pay negotiations.
There was also the ‘BarcaGate’ scandal in February, when the club denied hiring a company to boost the board’s image on social media, in part by discrediting key players like Messi and Gerard Pique.
Barcelona’s decline on the pitch had begun far earlier, perhaps as far back as 2017 when Neymar joined Paris Saint-Germain, prompting a chaotic few years in the transfer market.
Huge sums were spent on replacements for Neymar but few proved successful and some of the most expensive – Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho – are yet to deliver.
While Messi failed in his attempt to force a way out, he made clear his anger towards Bartomeu in an interview with Goal.
“He didn’t end up keeping his word”, said Messi. “It has been a long time since there has been a project or anything at all.”
Victor Font and Joan Laporta are expected to run to be Bartomeu’s successor.
Font has attached his campaign to the appointment of ex-Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez as coach while Laporta was president during the golden era under Pep Guardiola.
“Barça need a rescue,” wrote Font on Twitter. “Tonight I tell you with more enthusiasm than ever that we have the ideas, the team and the drive to rebuild the club.”
Barcelona are currently 12th in La Liga. Bartomeu’s last match was Saturday’s 3-1 defeat by Real Madrid.