Barcelona's growing controversy surrounding president Josep Maria Bartomeu and marketing consultancy I3 Ventures has left star player Lionel Messi bemused.
Messi spoke to Mundo Deportivo (h/t Sport) about the brewing turn of events now being dubbed "Barcagate" by some:
"The truth is it took me by surprise because I wasn't here and I was traveling. When I arrived I found out a little about everything. The president told us the same thing he made public, the same thing he said at the press conference. What the situation was, what had happened and I can't say much more than that. Just as they know everything he said, he spoke to the captains in private.
"The truth is that I find it strange that such a thing happens. But they also said that there would be evidence. We cannot say much and will wait to see what happens with all this. To me really, it seems a strange issue."
Messi's words have come on the heels of Bartomeu denying allegations he hired I3 Ventures to help improve his own image as president, while also besmirching the reputations of key names at the club, including Messi and Gerard Pique.
Bartomeu called claims a company was contracted to present negative portrayals of club legends past and present "completely false," per Barca's official website (h/t Press Association via the Independent).
The statement also involved Bartomeu conceding a social media account tied to I3 Ventures had published a negative remark about Barca personnel. Termination of contract has followed this breach, according to the embattled president.
Ironically, Messi's call for a wait-and-see approach to the accusations and any further developments is in stark contrast to the words used by Pique. The 33-year-old centre-back branded reporter Marcal Lorente a "puppet" on Twitter for appearing to defend Bartomeu (h/t Santi Gimenez of AS).
Bartomeu's public relations practices were first questioned by radio station SER Catalunya and La Llotja del Que t'hi Jugues (h/t TalkSport's Josh Fordham), who accused the president's chosen contractor of shaping social media opinion against Messi over the issue of signing a new contract, while Pique's stewardship of the Davis Cup was also a target.
In addition, El Periodic (h/t Football Espana) detailed how online posts had been critical of Pique's ownership of FC Andorra.
The latest scandal is another chapter in what is turning into a season defined by unsavoury episodes. Messi was recently embroiled in a public war of words with sporting director Eric Abidal.
Indifferent results on the pitch have already made Ernesto Valverde a casualty in the dugout. Keeping Barca on course, both in La Liga and the UEFA Champions League, won't be easy amid the backdrop of continuing chaos off the pitch.
It's the challenge facing Quique Setien, who needs talismen like Messi and Pique motivated to give their best.