BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona’s embattled club president has no intention of resigning after more than 20,000 club members signed a petition for Josep Bartomeu and his board to face a censure vote.
“No one is thinking about stepping down,” Bartomeu told Catalan television TV3 on Saturday before Barcelona beat Elche 1-0 in its third and final preseason match.
On Thursday the group of club members wanting a change in the leadership handed in 20,687 signatures calling for a referendum over whether the board should be removed. That surpassed the 16,520 signatures — the equivalent to 15% of all members — needed to force the vote. The success of the signature-raising campaign led to speculation in local media that Bartomeu would contemplate resigning.
“The number (of signatures) surprised even the promoters of the motion,” Bartomeu said. “The board will continue working to build the most competitive team possible.”
A date for the referendum has not been set, but if the signatures are validated, it should happen in the coming weeks.
Bartomeu and his board are already set to be replaced in a club election in March. But some club members think they should go now after last month’s 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich, a season without titles, and Lionel Messi’s attempt to leave the club.
Messi gave up on his desire to not complete the final year of his contract after Bartomeu refused to let him go. Messi said that Bartomeu had promised him he could decide his own future this summer and that he felt betrayed by his boss.
Bartomeu said Saturday that he wanted to move on with Messi.
“I won’t get into a conflict with him,” Bartomeu said. “These are things that must be said in private. We must make it possible that Messi stays with us. (…) He is our captain and our team leader. We have seen how he has responded on the pitch, and this issue is settled.”
Messi scored two goals in Barcelona’s second friendly match, a 3-1 win over Girona, on Wednesday.
The club’s all-time leading scorer set up Barcelona’s only goal on Saturday when he made a long pass to meet the run of Jordi Alba, who squared the ball for Antoine Griezmann to score in the third minute.
Luis Suárez watched the match from the empty stands of Camp Nou. Barcelona is looking to sell the Uruguay striker. Coach Ronald Koeman has not included Suárez in his squad in any of his team’s three training matches.
Barcelona opens the season next weekend when it faces Villarreal in the third round of the Spanish league. Barcelona had its games from the first two rounds postponed to give it more time to rest after playing in the Champions League in August. Last season’s Spanish league, won by Real Madrid, finished in July.