LIONEL MESSI'S future at Barcelona appeared increasingly uncertain yesterday after the Argentinian launched a remarkable and unprecedented attack on club director Javier Faus.
Messi accused Faus of "not knowing anything about football" in a radio interview which appears to have thrown the La Liga leaders into a crisis and increased fears that the four-time Ballon D'Or winner could be heading for the exit.
There have been persistent rumours that he is unhappy to have lost star billing to £48.6m Brazilian forward Neymar.
The situation became even more fraught this week when Faus, Barcelona's financial vice-president, insisted they had no obligation to review Messi's contract, which was extended in February to 2016.
Messi, who is normally a reluctant interviewee, has responded angrily to increase the pressure on the current administration.
"Barcelona is the best club in the world and should be represented by the best board members too," he said. "Senor Faus is someone who doesn't know anything about football and wants to manage Barcelona like a business, which it is not.
"Besides, I would remind him that neither I nor anyone from my camp has asked for any wage increase and he knows that very well."
Messi's comments have created a storm in Spain and came despite the attempts of Sandro Rosell, the Barcelona president, to defuse the row.
Rosell is believed to have spoken to Messi and his father, Jorge, to apologise, while refusing to close the door on opening negotiations over a new contract next year.
Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes called for calm and downplayed any conflict between the club and its most valuable player.
"We are all pulling in the same direction at this club," he said.
Messi is still recovering from a hamstring injury that he picked up in November and is not expected to return until the new year. The Argentinian has played only 11 league games this season and Neymar's arrival this summer has seen Messi's status as Barcelona's prized asset come under threat.
Neymar's wages have been the subject of much intrigue ever since his signing from Brazilian side Santos, with suggestions that he earns more than Messi only serving to add to the uncertainty.
Messi has also had to endure a campaign against his father. The pair are being investigated for allegedly not paying taxes. Jorge Messi made a payment of £4m in August to cover alleged back taxes and interest.
Spanish newspaper 'El Mundo' reported last Monday that Jorge was suspected of being involved in an operation to launder Colombian drug money through charity football matches featuring Messi and some of his Barcelona team-mates.
"I deeply regret what is being said, not only about me but about people I love, such as my dad and players who are my friends," Messi said. "What we do in those matches is 100pc charitable."
Rosell branded the reports an "attack" on Messi's family.
Spanish police and the Interior Ministry say a Colombian promoter is suspected of laundering drug money through concerts and sporting events in Spain, South America and the United States.
However, they say there is no evidence of wrongdoing by Messi, his family or other players who featured in matches organised by the Colombian promoter at the centre of the affair.
Messi is currently in Argentina, where he is recovering from a hamstring injury that has sidelined him from the Barcelona squad until the new year.
"I am focusing mentally on my recovery," Messi said. "I am not thinking about anything else other than getting back to the highest level of fitness possible." (©Daily Telegraph, London)