Embattled’ Barcelona call elections

BARCELONA president Josep Maria Bartomeu has called club elections for the end of the season in a bid to ease the tension surrounding the embattled Catalan club.

Bartomeu took over as president a year ago after Sandro Rossell resigned following the controversial signing of Brazilian striker Neymar which led to the club being accused of tax fraud.

“I have called this press conference to say that we have called elections for the end of the season to reduce the tension that surrounds the club which I think is disproportionate and doesn’t correspond to the reality of the club,” Bartomeu said on Wednesday.

“It is better than the mandates are completed, but it is clear that in recent weeks the level of tension hasn’t been right. We will keep managing things … and will not change our program.”

“We want to present ourselves for re-election. Things are positive, we started in 2010 and we want to continue.”

Barcelona's coach Luis Enrique Martinez.

Barcelona’s coach Luis Enrique Martinez.

Former Barca president Joan Laporta, who oversaw two Champions League triumphs in his previous spell in charge of the club between 2003 and 2010, has been strongly linked with a return to the top job at the Camp Nou but is yet to formally declare himself as a candidate.

The current board’s mandate was due to run until 2016, but Bartomeu has come under fire in recent weeks after Barca’s appeal against a one-year transfer ban by FIFA for irregularities in the signing of players under the age of 16 was rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

On Monday, Bartomeu sacked sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta and former captain Carles Puyol resigned from his position as Zubizarreta’s assistant.

Barca’s turbulent start to 2015 on and off the pitch began with a shock 1-0 defeat to David Moyes’s Real Sociedad on Sunday after coach Luis Enrique had left nearly 300 million euros ($A450 million) of talent, including Lionel Messi and Neymar on the bench.

Barcelona's President Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Barcelona’s President Josep Maria Bartomeu.

The two South American stars had only returned to Spain on Friday after being given two extra days holiday than the rest of the squad during the winter break.

Messi then sparked rumours he could leave the club he joined at the age of 13 when he missed an open training session with the club’s fans on Monday, citing a stomach bug.

However, Bartomeu strongly denied claims in Barcelona sports daily Sport that a request from Enrique to discipline the Argentine for missing the training session had been rejected by the club.

“That story is completely false. Whoever sent it did so with the intention to damage the club.”

Bartomeu also dismissed suggestions that Messi could leave the club having signed a new contract to keep him at the Camp Nou until 2018 in May.

“Messi had a contract until 2018. He is happy and content, so we are calm.”