Former Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has denied leaking the details of Lionel Messi’s contract with the Catalan giants, after the staggering numbers behind the deal emerged at the weekend.
Spanish newspaper El Mundo published the details of Messi’s four-year deal with Barcelona on Sunday.
Penned in 2017, the agreement would see the six-time Ballon d’Or winner take home as much as €555 million ($670 million) if all the add-ons were paid out.
The mind-blowing deal – said to be the biggest ever signed by an athlete – shocked football and cast further doubts on Barcelona’s strategy in recent years with the club now said to be more than €1 billion in debt.
Messi and Barcelona have reportedly said they will sue El Mundo, with suspicions now being cast as to who was behind the leak.
According to ESPN, there are only four copies of the contract – one in the hands of Messi, one with Barca, another being with La Liga, and one with law firm Cuatrecasas.
Former Barca president Bartomeu – who stepped down in October last year following a bitter fallout with Messi over the star’s attempts to leave the club – has now denied that he had anything to do with the contract details being aired in public.
“It’s a very serious issue and it’s totally illegal to leak professional contracts,” Bartomeu told Esport3, Marca reported.
“Speaking on TV and making accusations is easy, but it’s not a joke and this will end up in court.”
Despite his strained relations with Messi, Bartomeu claimed that the star “deserves what he earns… both for professional and commercial reasons.”
The disgraced former Barca chief also defended the logic in signing the bumper deal with Messi on his watch back in 2017, saying: “Without the pandemic, Barcelona could easily pay those figures.”
The financial fallout from Covid-19 has hit Barcelona hard, with falling matchday revenues as well as wider drops in associated spending from visitors to the Catalan city, where the club’s Nou Camp home is often among the popular destinations.
The pandemic has also caused delays to Barcelona’s presidential elections to find a replacement for Bartomeu. The vote is now set for March 7, having been postponed from January.
Messi was forced to abort his plans to leave Barcelona at the end of last season, accusing Bartomeu of reneging on a deal which would allow him to walk away for free at the end of each season.
Messi insisted the agreement was still in place in August due to the extended season caused by Covid-19, but Barca asserted the clause had expired in June.
In the end, the 33-year-old star opted against an ugly legal battle with the club he has represented for 20 years.
Speculation abounds as to what Messi’s fate will be at the end of the current season, when he will be free to move without the confusion of last year.
He will likely be a target for cash-rich Manchester City as well as fellow money-men PSG – who have made their intentions increasingly clear in an apparent bid to lure the Argentine to France.
Wherever he ends up next season, Messi will likely be staring at a significant reduction to the sums he currently pockets at Barcelona.
In the meantime, the star number 10 continues to rack up new milestones with Barcelona, hitting a sublime free-kick in the 2-1 win against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday which took his tally to 650 goals in Barcelona colors.