Barcelona have finally put together a decent run of wins to give fans hope of some success this season.
But their Catalan giants’ problems off the field are far from over, with the club now trying to show it is fully behind Lionel Messi after the embarrassing leaking of the great man’s contract.
The team beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1 for their fifth straight Spanish league win on Sunday, moving them to second in the standings for the first time this season as Messi scored his 650th club goal.
Yet the club’s focus was left on trying to find out how – and why – Messi’s 555 million euro ($A880 million) contract ended up being disclosed.
It is just the latest mess afflicting Barcelona, who have been mired in debt and political turmoil since last season, their first without a title in more than a decade.
“We have to try to find out how this got to the press,” Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman said. “If someone from the club leaked this, that person can’t have a future in this club.”
El Mundo newspaper gained access to the contract that Messi signed with the Catalan club in 2017. It included details of his fixed income and variables payments that could reach nearly 138 million euros ($A219 million) for each of the four seasons it covered.
Some saw its disclosure as an attempt to turn Barcelona’s fans against Messi, who last year had his request to leave the club denied but will be free to go at the end of this season.
“Messi has done a lot for this club,” Koeman said.
“We have to respect him. It seems there is bad intention and a desire to hurt him. Without Leo, you can’t aspire to win many things.”
Barcelona categorically denied any involvement in the leak and said it would take legal action against the newspaper “for any damage that may be caused as a result of this publication.”
The club was quick to express its “absolute support” for Messi after the “attempt to discredit his image” and “damage his relationship with the entity where he has worked to become the best player in the world and in football history.”
Former president Josep Bartomeu, who resigned in October after being criticised by Messi, also denied he was behind the leak.
“Messi deserves what he earns, for sports and commercial reasons,” Bartomeu told Catalan channel TV3.
Joan Laporta, one of the presidential candidates in the club elections scheduled for March 7, said Monday he will investigate who leaked the document if he is elected. “The club must know what happened.”
He noted that Messi generates a third of Barcelona’s revenues and he will work hard to convince the Argentina great to stay at the club.