La Liga: Barca Deny Criticising Messi, Other Players On Social Media

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Barcelona have denied trying to boost the image of club president Josep Maria Bartomeu by hiring a company that criticised current and former players , including Lionel Messi , on social media .

According to Spanish radio station Cadena Ser Cataluna , the PR company I 3 Ventures was contracted by Barca and oversaw “ dozens ” of accounts attacking the likes of Messi , Gerard Pique , Xavi Hernandez , Pep Guardiola and Carles Puyol on Facebook and Twitter .

Among the messages the report cites is one expressing anger towards Messi for his delay in signing a new contract and another questioning Pique ’ s involvement in the Davis Cup.

But Barcelona released a statement on Monday that said the club “ strongly denies any relationship and , furthermore , the contracting of services linked to social network accounts that have spread negative messages or disdain in relation to any person , entity or organisation that has or has had a relationship with the Club. ”

The statement said Barcelona hire “ social media monitoring services ” to keep track of posts written about the club but that I 3 Ventures “ has no relation to these accounts ” . Barcelona also threatened legal action against any media organisations that “ continue to involve the club in this type of practice ” .

The controversy increases the pressure on Bartomeu and the Barcelona board ahead of the presidential elections due next year, and following a period of political turmoil at the club .

The “ Yes to the Future ” campaign headed by rival presidential candidate Victor Font said in a statement the latest allegations were “ extremely serious ” .

Bartomeu has admitted the club should have handled better the sacking of Ernesto Valverde last month , when an approach to Xavi was leaked while Valverde was still in post .

Then two weeks ago, Messi became embroiled in a public spat with the club ’ s technical secretary Eric Abidal , who had claimed the players were the main cause of Valverde ’ s removal .

Messi accused Abidal of “ dirtying” the players , sparking fears the Argentinian could activate a clause in his contract that allows him to leave for free in the summer .

Bartomeu called a meeting with Messi and Abidal to stabilise the situation and another rapprochement may now be needed ahead of a crucial week for the team .

Barcelona play Eibar at home in La Liga on Saturday before facing Napoli away in the Champions League and then Real Madrid in the league at the Santiago Bernabeu .

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