<
>

Barcelona like 'Game of Thrones' as Bartomeu looks to axe board members - sources

play
Marcotti There are storm clouds gathering over Barcelona (1:57)

Gab Marcotti breaks down Lionel Messi's comments towards the Barcelona board following wage cuts for players. (1:57)

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu wants to remove four members of his board as factions at the club deepen, sources have told ESPN.

One source compared life behind the scenes at Camp Nou to hit television drama "Game of Thrones," explaining that everyone is vying to position themselves ahead of next summer's presidential elections.

- Stream new episodes of ESPN FC Monday through Friday on ESPN+
- Stream every episode of 30 for 30: Soccer Stories on ESPN+

Bartomeu, who will not be able to run in 2021 having served two terms, "only wants to be surrounded by people that he can completely trust," as he moves into the final year of his mandate, another source said.

A number of incidents since the turn of the year have shown cracks inside the club and led Bartomeu to ask two of his vice presidents, Emili Rousaud and Enrique Tombas, to step down this week.

Rousaud, who was tipped to be the board's candidate for the presidency, confirmed on Wednesday that Bartomeu phoned him but said that he was not planning on resigning. He wants to talk with the president face-to-face once the coronavirus-enforced lockdown measures are lifted in Spain.

"Bartomeu told me he wanted to remodel the board and that there was distrust with a number of directors, including me," Rousaud told Cadena Ser Catalunya. "There were leaks to the press that annoyed the players and he felt I had criticised the work of other executives.

"I understand the president's looking for another profile of director, but he could have waited three of four weeks to do it. I don't like how he's done it."

Directors Silvio Elias and Josep Pont are the other two board members that Bartomeu has lost confidence in.

As the club is owned by its members, Bartomeu does not have the power to sack people, but he can demote them or change their roles within the club's structure.

The institutional crisis has been brewing since Ernesto Valverde was sacked in January. Some members of the board believed Bartomeu should have fired the coach much sooner.

There was further debate among the board when Lionel Messi called out sporting director Eric Abidal in February. Abidal had suggested the players were to blame for Valverde's dismissal, which led Messi to voice his grievances with how some members of the Barca hierarchy depicted the playing staff's role in decision-making at the club.

An internal leak then revealed that the club had a relationship with a third-party company, I3 Ventures, that had been discrediting players, potential presidents and club legends on social media.

Bartomeu denied any knowledge of the social media accounts, rescinded the club's contract with I3 and ordered an external investigation into what had happened.

Further leaks followed last month when the club were negotiating a wage cut with the players due to the coronavirus crisis. Reports in the local media suggested the players were reluctant to take a hit and help the club.

A statement from the players, first released by Messi, contradicted those reports. It expressed "surprise that from inside the club there would be people that want to put us under a magnifying glass or try to pressure us into something that we were always clear we wanted to do."

Speaking to Mundo Deportivo on Wednesday, Luis Suarez added: "On a general level, we were angry because things were said which were not true. They said we didn't want to lose so much money. It annoyed us.

"We were always clear that we were ready to help the club in these difficult times across the world. The agreement took a while because it's not easy to sort it all out with 23 players and the lawyers."

It has all contributed to the ruptures within the board and, sources explained to ESPN, Bartomeu wants to act now in the hope of reducing the constant controversy surrounding the club in his final 14 months in charge.