Barcelona has sacked director Pere Gratacos following comments he made about Lionel Messi. Gratacos, the director of Institutional Relations and of training and education, and a key figure in the development of the heralded youth system, suggested on Friday that Messi would not be the same player without the likes of Andres Iniesta and Neymar.
"Barcelona are not here only because of Messi," he said at the draw for the Copa del Rey quarterfinal. "He's very important but it was the team who won [against Athletic Bilbao in the last 16]. Without Neymar, Luis Suarez, [Andres] Iniesta, [Gerard] Pique and the others, he wouldn't be such a good player."
Barca has taken swift action following those remarks, which it stress "do not coincide with those of the club". He will, however, continue to work on the Masia 360 project, aimed at revamping the youth organisation across all sports teams at Barcelona.
The club said in a statement: "Pere Gratacos has been dismissed from his position as head of sporting Institutional Relations with the Royal Spanish Football Federation for having publicly expressed a personal opinion that does not coincide with that of the club, following the draw for the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey, which took place in Madrid.
"The decision was taken by Albert Soler, director of Professional Sports, who will immediately assume those responsibilities going forward. Pere Gratacos will continue to be linked to Barcelona by developing the rest of the tasks already taking place under the Masia 360 project."
Gratacos' comments came just two days after the champions' chief executive Oscar Grau said Messi's contract renewal should be "analysed with a cool head and common sense", before adding "Barca cannot spend more than 70 per cent of the budget on salaries, therefore we have to make sure things balance".
Gratacos and Grau's comments have already sparked speculation - most notably in the Madrid press - that Barca is paving the way to sell Messi but Luis Enrique was not interested in fuelling the fire when he addressed the media prior to Saturday's home game with Las Palmas.
He said: "I am not going to get into this game. Messi is the best, that's it. Everything is skewed. People try to get a story out of Messi but the club has been pretty clear about what it thinks about Lionel Messi. We shouldn't be looking at quotes from people and trying to make a story out of them."