FC Barcelona’s board allegedly paid a “reputation management company” called I3 Ventures to attack their “enemies,” which at times even included current players such as Messi and Gerard Piqué, according to Cadena SER.
We will examine a portion of those posts which exploded during the controversy surrounding #BarçaGate, as some are calling it now.
I3 reportedly managed six Facebook pages, but two in particular were the ones used most often to carry out the attacks: Alter Sports and Justicia y Diálogo en el Deporte.
Alter Sports writes in English, with an informal style based on internet culture, memes, and jokes. Meanwhile, Justicia y Diálogo en el Deporte writes in Spanish and with a more “serious” tone.
They had their pet targets, but there was a clear bent in both pages of attacking certain “inconvenient” people, and defending the current board. I will be referencing a Twitter thread I put together with screenshots and links and translations in case you are interested in checking that out.
Let’s start with this post from Alter Sports. “The face you make when the Barça train leaves you behind for being a smart ass,” it says, in classic meme fashion, over a picture of Xavi.
(Thread) Screenshots and links to the controversial posts by I3 which Barcelona reportedly paid for.— Luis Mazariegos (@luism8989) February 18, 2020
This one against Xavi:
"The face you make when the Barça train leaves you behind for being a smart ass" (referring to Xavi turning down coaching Barcelona) pic.twitter.com/oaXcFB7g3Q
Interestingly, this was when he had turned down the Barcelona coaching job.
“In life, you need to know when to take your chances on the fly and not to wait for when it’s convenient and for them to serve it to you with a beer in your hand,” it reads.
Here’s another one from Alter Sports. This one calls Messi’s wife, Antonella Rocuzzo, a “wild beast.” While perhaps meant as a compliment for defending her son ferociously “like a lioness,” it’s still highly inappropriate.
A more direct attack on Messi came from Sport Leaks, another page managed by I3, which seemed to focus on “hidden” deals in the football world.
This one alleges Messi was “destabilizing the board” by refusing to sign a contract renewal, all in exchange for money to fund a theme park in China from businessman Jaume Roures.
This is alleging that Messi exchanged "his silence" of not renewing with FC Barcelona right away so that Jaume Roures (businessman) would fund his theme park in China. Rouras is doing that to "destabilize the board." pic.twitter.com/5R9urTaUuk— Luis Mazariegos (@luism8989) February 18, 2020
Rouras was apparently considered such an insidious enemy that an entire page was dedicated to him: Jaume un Film de Terror.
Speaking of pet targets, Alter Sports really hated Pep Guardiola it seems. They frequently took shots at the Manchester City manager.
So, they really hated Pep it seems: pic.twitter.com/TfzB8Y9tkx— Luis Mazariegos (@luism8989) February 18, 2020
Justicia also seemingly hated Pep, and they also took a shot at Gerard Piqué:
"(Traditional Spanish song) and long live Spain... in Piqué's magic box, there is an air that's very Spanish. The footballer has tossed aside his political vision in search of success for his competition. Do you think he's doing the right thing?"https://t.co/MMCNH6Tg1J pic.twitter.com/Qqx2jkFHcn— Luis Mazariegos (@luism8989) February 18, 2020
But Justicia tended to focus most obviously on people who would run for president to replace Josep Maria Bartomeu, namely Víctor Font, Joan Laporta, and Agustí Benedito.
Safe to say they don't like Victor Font or Joan Laporta much. pic.twitter.com/D8uuy8iyly— Luis Mazariegos (@luism8989) February 18, 2020
They frequently accused them, and also local media and organizations, of being Catalan separatists who wanted Barcelona to give into “illogical” demands from Catalan nationalists. They tended to portray Bartomeu as the voice of reason refusing to “over politicize” the club.
The defense of Bartomeu from these pages is more than a little suspicious. While it’s possible, of course, for a regular person to genuinely defend Bartomeu, it’s hard to imagine a normal user making posts reminding people Bartomeu spoke out in favor of women’s rights or praising him for his ability to live life with humor. These are things no one was really talking about, but you can imagine a PR company doing for the sake of his image.
Bartomeu "knows how to take a joke better than other athletes or football directors." They then congratulate him for "knowing how to live life with humor"— Luis Mazariegos (@luism8989) February 18, 2020
Very common things everyone was saying right?https://t.co/TWcLPed4fF pic.twitter.com/R8zfh31r9b
Barcelona do not deny paying I3, but say they never paid for them to create any content. The club says that as soon as they found out I3 was behind these pages, they severed ties with the company.