Mar 2, 2021 - Sports

Police raid and arrests deepen FC Barcelona crisis

Illustration of the FC Barcelona shield logo hanging askew and falling apart.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Police raided the headquarters of FC Barcelona on Monday, seizing evidence in relation to the club's social media scandal and arresting four people.

Detained: Josep Maria Bartomeu, former president; Oscar Grau, CEO; Roman Gomez Ponti, head of legal services; Jaume Masferrer, an adviser to Bartomeau.

The backdrop: It's been a year since Barça was alleged to have hired an external marketing company to smear former and current players, including Lionel Messi, on social media.

  • Barcelona denied the allegations and a PWC audit cleared the club of any wrongdoing, but the police continued their investigation.
  • They first raided the club's Camp Nou offices last June in search of documents. On Monday, they returned.

The big picture: These arrests are yet another crisis for one of the world's most valuable sports teams, which is already facing crippling debt, boardroom turmoil, declining play, and endless Messi drama.

  • Crippling debt: Barça owes ~$1.2 billion to its lenders, tax officials and rival clubs, according to financial statements. Camp Nou is usually one of Spain's most visited tourist sites, but spectators remain prohibited — a huge loss of revenue.
  • Boardroom turmoil: Barcelona dealt with off-field dysfunction for much of 2020, and these arrests come just six days before the club's 140,000 members will elect Bartomeu's successor as president.
  • Declining play: Last season was Barça's first without a title since 2007-08, and this season hasn't been much better. While they've rallied to move into second place in La Liga, they face a 2-0 deficit to Sevilla in the Copa del Rey and a 4-1 deficit to PSG in the Champions League.
  • Endless Messi drama: Messi briefly threatened to leave the club this summer after a public falling out with Bartomeu. He decided to stay, but his contract ends in May. The drama continued last month when a newspaper published leaked details of Messi's $672 million contract.

Go deeper: Barcelona and the crippling cost of success (NYT)

Go deeper