Barcelona sack top official for making disparaging remarks about Lionel Messi as contract saga continues
Barcelona have sacked a club director for disparaging comments about Lionel Messi as the club desperately attempt to tie down the Argentina captain to a new contract.
The five-time Ballon d'Or winner's contract expires in 2018 and his club are keen to make him the final and most important of a raft of extensions this season.
But they know it is going to take a world-record offer to convince the 29-year-old to commit the final years of his career - in Europe, at least - to the Nou Camp club given some of his off-the-field issues with the Spanish authorities. A situation not aided by Barca's director of institutional relations, Pere Gratacos, and his comments this week.
"Leo is one of the most important people in the team, but it's not just about him," Gratacos told reporters after Friday's Copa del Rey draw in Madrid.
"He would not be as good without [Andres] Iniesta, Neymar and company," he said, before belatedly adding "but Messi is the best."
The damage, however, was done.
Coming hot on the heels of comments from Oscar Grau, the club's chief executive, who ominously declared that the club must apply "common sense" during negotiations with Messi, Gratacos' comments quickly became too toxic for Barca to handle.
And so, on Friday afternoon, Barcelona released a statement confirming that Gratacos, a former coach of Messi's during his time at La Masia, had been removed from his post.
"FC Barcelona have dismissed Pere Gratacos as head of institutional sporting relations with the Royal Spanish Football Federation for having publicly expressed a personal opinion that does not match that of the club after the draw for the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey held today in Madrid.
"The decision has been taken by Albert Soler, director of professional sports, who will assume these functions directly from now on."
Barcelona said Gratacos would still have an undefined position with the club academy.