Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu faces a possible prison sentence over Lionel Messi transfer saga, Spanish football expert Guillem Balague has sensationally claimed.
Balague says that Bartomeu could be looking at a jail term if he allows Messi to walk away from the club for free this summer.
Messi, 33, is furious with the handling of the situation and wants to quit Catalona after the La Liga giants have endured their first trophyless season in 12 years.
The Argentine had a clause in his contract which allowed him to leave for free if he notified the club before June 10.
That date has since passed but the six-time Ballon d’Or winner is adamant he should still be allowed to move on to pastures news.
Bartomeu insists he will not let Messi leave for less than £640million but if he succumbed to the player’s wishes he could be faced with significant punishment.
Balague tweeted: “Reasons for Barto to insist on Messi staying. The coach wants him (when [Ronald] Koeman asked Barto, ‘do I have Messi’, president said, ‘yes’. Next day Jorge Messi rang Barto to tell him again that his son wants to go).
“Koeman has suggested that he’s made a strong team without Messi too.
“Other reasons: Barto doesn’t want to reinforce his rival. Finally if he badly sells Messi, the next president or season ticket holder could accuse him of mishandling assets.
“That could mean a huge payment from his own pocket or even prison! So he needs to fight Messi’s departure till the end.”
Bartomeu’s tenure as Barcelona president is due to expire next year and he is not standing in the March elections.
Manchester City have been strongly linked with a move for Messi as Pep Guardiola eyes a reunion.
But Balague thinks the price the Blues have to pay could come from the courts.
He added: “Messi, who will not go to train today, can insist that the clause of June 10 should count on August 25 (the Champions League final was on 23).
“Plan B would be to negotiate with Barcelona (with Jorge’s visit) or finally break the contract and have the FCB take him to court.
“In that case, the FCB would take him to a social and / or sports court that would determine the price of the transfer, which depends on his age, years of contract, damage to the club.
“In that case, City (Inter, Juve) considers seriously not to sign him because the end of the case is uncertain.”