Barcelona have sacked one of their directors after he appeared to suggest the club’s record goalscorer and five-time Balon d’Or winner Lionel Messi was over-rated.
Asked about Messi’s role in Barcelona’s cup win over Athletic Bilbao – when the player scored free-kicks in both legs to put Barca through – Pere Gratacos said:
‘It wasn’t just Leo. Leo is one of the most important players in the team, but Barcelona went through because of the whole team.
‘Leo without Neymar, without Suarez, without Iniesta, without Pique, without the other players, would not be as good a player, although it is clear that he is the best player.’
This is a sensitive time for Barcelona-Messi relations because the club have allowed their greatest player to come within just 12 months of being able to negotiate a departure away from the club on a free transfer.
Many Barcelona fans were left stunned by Gratacos’s comments and the club acted swiftly by relieving him of his duties with immediate effect.
A club statement on Friday evening said that Gratacos had been dismissed from his position as director of institutional relations with the Spanish Football Federation for ‘publicly expressing an opinion that did not conincide with the of the club’.
Gratacos coached Messi when he was a youngster at the club and the two are understood to have had a cordial relationship within the club but the decision shows how jumpy Barcelona have become over Messi’s future and their apparent inability to tie him to a new long-term deal.
Early in the week another Barca director, Oscar Grau caused a storm when he suggested the club should retain a ‘cool head’ and ‘show common sense’ regarding the financial commitment it makes to Messi in offering him a new deal.
After Messi had once again saved Barcelona with his third goal inside a week against Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday the comment looked even worse.
Asked if he thought Messi should have his contract renewed at any cost Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said after the game:
‘I don’t know anything about numbers; I do know about football and he was decisive again tonight.’
Barcelona players were furious about Grau’s comments and Luis Suarez said: ‘The club doesn’t need to show common sense; what it needs to do is renew Messi.’
Grau escaped punishment but Graticos, who was speaking at the Copa del Rey quarter-finals draw on Friday, has not been so fortunate.
He will continue to work for the club on its Masia 360 project but will cease to be an official spokesman as director of institutional relations.
Messi’s current deal runs out in 2018. Sources at Barcelona believe he will end up renewing on a new £30.5m net a season deal but talks are yet to formally begin to the bemusement of many supporters and this weeks comments from Grau and Graticos have added to their concerns.