Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has defended the club's decision to sign Martin Braithwaite but admits Leganes have every right to feel aggrieved by the transfer.

The LaLiga champions confirmed on Thursday they had signed the striker after triggering an €18million release clause in his contract.

Barca were granted special dispensation to sign Braithwaite outside of the transfer window after losing Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele to long-term injuries.

LaLiga strugglers Leganes have been blocked from bringing in a replacement forward, however, much to the frustration of the club's general director Martin Ortega.

Ortega accused the league and the Royal Spanish Football Federation of causing Leganes "irreparable damage" and has asked for the rule to be amended.

Speaking at Braithwaite's introductory news conference on Thursday, Bartomeu agreed the loophole needs to be looked at.

"We have paid the clause following the regulations, although we believe that it should be revised because it is not fair that Leganes cannot now sign anyone," he told reporters.

Barcelona's decision to sign Braithwaite has raised eyebrows, but Bartomeu believes the former Middlesbrough forward can be a big asset for the club this season and beyond.

"After analysing different players, we chose Martin. We believe it will help us win the two remaining titles," he added.

"I am very excited about the arrival of a new player and we hope he will help us in a league that we want to win and that is very open. He will give us strength.

"We had a long-term injured player like Dembele, in addition to Luis Suarez. The technical team has studied players and we hope Braithwaite can debut quickly.

"He has signed for the next four and a half years and comes to help now and for the future."

Braithwaite could make his debut when Eibar visit Camp Nou on Saturday, and Barca director Eric Abidal is happy with the new arrival.

"Martin is a Denmark international, with experience different from those players we have," said Abidal, who dodged questions regarding his recent row with Lionel Messi.

"He has character, strength, speed and great potential. I have had the opportunity to speak with coaches he has had. He will contribute a lot and be decisive. 

"Hopefully, we can compete with him at the highest level."

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has denied the club hired a social media contractor in order to discredit the likes of Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and Pep Guardiola.

Spanish radio network Cadena SER reported on Monday that an independent social media company was contracted by Barca to boost the public profile of the current board of directors.

The reports also stated the company was tasked with undermining individuals with strong links to the club, including current stars Messi and Pique, former coach Guardiola and midfield icon Xavi.

Following a strong statement of denial on Monday, Bartomeu, while acknowledging Barca had hired I3 Ventures – the company in question – has reiterated the club's stance.

"I want to make clear, for the [Barca] members, and everyone, because I have heard different versions," Bartomeu said at the XIV Vazquez Montalban International Journalism Awards.

"First of all, I have to say that Barcelona haven't hired any service to discredit anyone. Neither players, nor the executives, ex-presidents. That is totally false.

"So we will defend ourselves where necessary regarding this subject, by all means, and in front of anyone who accuses us of doing this. I repeat again, it is false that Barcelona, in any case, has hired no one to discredit anyone."

However, with I3 Ventures connected to one of the accounts named in the reports – Respeto y Deporte (Respect and Sport) – Bartomeu confirmed Barca have ended their relationship with the contractor.

"It is true that at the end of 2017, Barcelona hired a service to monitor different areas of the club in the social media, as the major of the clubs have," he added.

"After the confirmation that one of the accounts linked to one of this company's suppliers have made inappropriate commentaries about people related to our organisation, I have given instructions personally to terminate the contract with this company.

"I want to make something clear. Regarding to the question that "if we have ordered anyone to monitor the social media", the answer is yes and we will still do it. 

"It is the responsibility of this club to know what is going on and what it is being said around the world, always to preserve Barcelona.

"Regarding to the question "If we have ordered to discredit people or institutions through social media" the answer is no and we will persecute everyone who accuses us of it."

Gerard Pique said Barcelona's dressing room was united despite the LaLiga champions suffering a crushing blow in an already troubling week, eliminated by Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey.

A 1-0 defeat to Athletic saw Barcelona knocked out of the Copa in the quarter-finals on Thursday, with that familiar route to silverware now cut off to the 30-time winners.

The setback followed criticism from director of football Eric Abidal, who questioned the team's effort under former head coach Ernesto Valverde, which led to a rebuke from star man and captain Lionel Messi.

"It's not time to air the dirty washing. The dressing room is fully united," Barca defender Pique told reporters. "Elimination is a big blow but we said in the dressing room that we've taken a step forward and played well, despite all the noise that's been generated."

He added, according to several Spanish newspapers: "We have to focus on playing and winning. We have to return to winning ways. The players have the ability to keep winning and we are working on that every day, finding a better feel for the game."

With LaLiga and the Champions League still in their sights, Pique said of Barcelona, who are three points behind Real Madrid: "There is enough confidence and talent to be able to win the two remaining titles."

Pique hobbled off in the second half in Bilbao with what initially appeared to be a groin injury, but he said the blow was to his adductor and "not serious".

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu said Barcelona looked to be on the right track, after a match they could easily have won.

Messi and Antoine Griezmann missed clear chances before Inaki Williams headed the winner deep in second-half stoppage time.

"The first thing is to congratulate Athletic, who will be in the semi-finals, but I also thank the Barca fans who have come and I also congratulate the Barca players because they fought, dominated and played well. [Athletic] have only had one chance and they scored," Bartomeu told Barca TV.

He said that he appreciated Barcelona's "performance and ambition".

"The ambition and the attitude that I saw on the pitch encourages me with a view to LaLiga and the Champions League, so successes can come," Bartomeu added.

"I repeat that we had clear occasions, such as those of Griezmann and Messi, and we dominated. Now we focus on LaLiga and the Champions League, but I want to emphasise the ambition, the attitude and the work done. We deserved to go through."

Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets said, according to AS: "It is a sad day for everyone. We have two competitions that we have to keep fighting in. This does not stop, we have to continue, we have done things well and we have had the game quite under control. In an isolated play at the end we are out of the Copa."

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu confirmed the LaLiga champions are considering a move for Valencia forward Rodrigo Moreno.

Rodrigo has emerged as a target for Barca, who are in the market for attacking reinforcements after Luis Suarez's season-ending injury.

Spain international Rodrigo, who netted 15 times across all competitions last term, has scored four goals for Valencia this season.

Asked about the mounting speculation, Bartomeu said: "We don't talk about players from other teams. But [Rodrigo's] name is on the table of the coaches.

"And a replacement will arrive. I do not know whether it will be from Barcelona B or from outside [the club].

"I like many players."

Barca captain and six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi was also a topic of conversation.

In 2017, Messi signed a new contract with Barca until 2021 and the Spanish giants want to extend the 32-year-old's deal.

"He will be done with Barcelona when he wants. His relationship with Barcelona is forever," Bartomeu said.

"He has plenty more football to play here. Leo Messi will be around for a while."

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu does not believe axed head coach Ernesto Valverde was treated unfairly despite admitting holding discussions with several prospective replacements while he was still in his post.

Barca unveiled ex-Real Betis boss Quique Setien as Valverde's successor on Tuesday, concluding a tumultuous few days at Camp Nou.

Valverde parted ways with the club amid mounting pressure on the back of last week's Supercopa de Espana defeat to Atletico Madrid, even though he won LaLiga in both his completed seasons at the helm and sat joint top alongside Real Madrid this time around.

"Last year there were a lot of requests for him to not continue and I personally always believed in him," Bartomeu said of Valverde, speaking alongside Setien at a news conference.

"I liked how he was as a person, as a coach, he had the confidence of the club. We decided to continue with him in this project.

"The only thing is, as I said before, in recent weeks there was a dynamic [that was] not very good, it wasn't new to him. It's a collective job – we spoke to find solutions and after speaking we decided a few days ago the best thing for a boost to the team was a change in coach, that allows us to handle the second half of the season on a high.

"We're doing well in the league and champions league, I like what Ernesto Valverde did a lot, but it was the moment to make the change for a boost.

"I want to thank Ernesto. He is a great person with great values. We're friends with him, we had a great relationship with him and a lot of respect for him."

News broke over the weekend that Barcelona sporting director Eric Abidal held talks with his old team-mate Xavi over replacing Valverde.

Xavi remains with Qatari club Al Sadd, although Bartomeu suggested Barca's search for a new coach went beyond the club great and Setien.

"Abidal has been in touch with everyone talking about future and plans and he will explain what's gone on, without names," he said.

"No names bar one has come up and been public, because that's not our style. He's been working to find coaches and speaking with them.

"He's brought Setien, who we like very much."

Abidal himself added: "I'm not going to just talk about Xavi. When it comes to taking decisions, the board knows that answers are needed. Every manager has his DNA and decisions. They're all different.

"Setien is here because we like his way of working and his style. It's something we like, and in football we know a lot can change, but we have full confidence in the coach and the staff.

"From what I've seen in first day of training, there's a lot of changes. I think we can reach our objectives with him. I respect all the coaches I spoke to, but we had to take a decision and I think the perfect coach for us is Setien."

Neymar's ongoing legal action against Barcelona has not harmed his relationship with club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, according to the player's father.

Ex-Barca star Neymar initiated a lawsuit against his former employers soon after joining Paris Saint-Germain in 2017.

The dispute over a €26million unpaid loyalty bonus remains before the courts but, on Thursday, Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo claimed the 27-year-old had filed a new €3.5m claim.

Neymar Sr addressed the matter in a radio interview and said it was "nothing new" as he expressed confidence a settlement would be reached.

"It's a thing from the past, when Neymar left Barcelona," he told COPE. "We always want to reach an agreement, it is better for everyone. Barcelona are not worried about this and neither are we."

The legal friction further complicated Neymar's recent attempt to secure a move back to Camp Nou, which failed to materialise.

Lionel Messi admitted some at the club opposed the attacker's return but Neymar Sr insisted there was no bad blood between the Selecao star and Bartomeu, who has since ruled out a January approach.

"We have never had a bad relationship with Bartomeu," Neymar Sr said, before adding: "We don't know anything about the future.

"Neymar has a contract with the PSG. He is happy."

Neymar is in his third season with Ligue 1 side PSG, having spent four at LaLiga champions Barca following his arrival in Spain from Santos.

Barcelona "cannot afford" to let unsettled midfielder Arturo Vidal leave the club in January, according to president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Vidal has started just four of Barca's 20 matches this season and last month vowed to quit the Spanish champions next year if he is not made to "feel important".

Barca boss Ernesto Valverde has opened the door for the Chile international to find a new team, with Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta recently hinting his side are interested.

However, Bartomeu is expecting Vidal - a reported €18million signing from Bayern Munich in August 2018 - to remain at Camp Nou until at least the end of the season.

"No movement is expected in January," he told La Repubblica. "We have a balanced squad - we don't lack anything, but we also cannot afford to lose someone. 

"Several times before a player has showed a willingness to leave, but never in January. In some cases we have let them go, on other occasions we have convinced them to stay."

Barcelona travel to Inter in the Champions League on Tuesday with top spot already assured in Group F, while the Italians need to match Borussia Dortmund's result against Slavia Prague.

Lautaro Martinez has been in fine form for the Serie A leaders this season, leading to reports he is on Barca's radar, but Bartomeu was unwilling to comment on the speculation.

"This is a trap question," he said. "What I can say is that Inter are playing very well and he is not the only player who has impressed me. It is no coincidence that Inter are top of Serie A."

Barcelona will find it impossible to replace Lionel Messi, according to club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who added Pep Guardiola would always be welcome back at Camp Nou.

Messi followed up winning a record sixth Ballon d'Or by recording his 35th LaLiga hat-trick in Barca's 5-2 win over Real Mallorca on Saturday.

Despite spending big on Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong in the most recent transfer window, Barca are still heavily reliant on the 32-year-old, who has scored 14 goals from 15 appearances in all competitions this term.

Bartomeu has acknowledged Barca will find it extremely difficult to replace Messi whenever the forward calls time on his stay at the club, but outlined their intention to continue developing young talent from the famed La Masia academy. 

"We Barca fans have the good fortune to enjoy Messi every three days," Bartomeu, who plans to offer Messi a "lifetime contract" told Italian publication La Repubblica.

"Leo is impossible to replace and when he will be here no more, we will be forced to play differently. I cannot say that we are already preparing for post-Messi, but it is true that we have already decided to bet on young players for a long time.

"For now, what we have to do is not worry, but enjoy it. I would like to make him an annuity contract as we have already done with [Andres] Iniesta. He has earned the right to decide when to say enough is enough.

"As a footballer, Messi is number one and we will fully understand it only in a few years, because Leo has changed not only the history of Barca, but that of world football."

Bartomeu also confirmed Guardiola - who left Barca in 2012 after four trophy-laden seasons in charge before going on to coach Bayern Munich and now Manchester City, will always have a home at Barca, should he wish to return. 

"A possible return of Guardiola? It doesn't depend on me," he added. 

"It was Pep who decided to leave, but for him the doors of Barca are always open." 

Lionel Messi's inevitable retirement is a worrying thought but the record-breaker deserves to determine his own fate, according to Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Messi, 32, suggested the end of his career was "approaching" after winning an unprecedented sixth Ballon d'Or on Monday.

Ernesto Valverde insisted it was a natural line of thinking and nothing to be concerned about but Bartomeu told Catalunya Radio: "I worry about the day Messi goes."

He does not expect that day to come soon and outlined plans to agree a contract extension with Messi before his own term as president ends in 2021, which coincides with the expiry of the Argentine's deal.

"I would like to sign one more contract with Messi," Bartomeu said.

"He has a lot left. We have talked many times and he has no problem continuing at Barca. I have no doubt that he will play here until he retires, it is a commitment from him.

"It will end when he wants because Leo, for being the best, for giving what he has given, it will be up to him to say when he stops.

"He will set the terms. He has the right to decide how and when he wants to finish. He will never leave, this is his club, the club of his life."

Head coach Valverde is also due to become a free agent in 2021 but, unlike Messi, there looks to be a realistic chance of him leaving then or earlier.

The former Athletic Bilbao boss will hope to secure a third successive LaLiga title before decisions are made over his future.

Bartomeu said: "Valverde has a contract until the end of my term. He or Barcelona will decide. To continue with a coach depends on many variables.

"In Barcelona we have seen very short periods of coaches lately. Three [seasons] may be enough, but it is a decision that he must make.

"It depends on exhaustion, fatigue, although I see Valverde is excited, wants to do well, wants success and wants to combine these players who have won everything with the new generation."

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has no doubt Lionel Messi is the greatest player of all-time.

Messi, 32, is tipped to win a record sixth Ballon d'Or on Monday after enjoying another fine year.

The Argentina forward is often discussed among the greatest players ever, alongside the likes of Diego Maradona, Pele and Cristiano Ronaldo.

But Bartomeu, whose club celebrated their 120th anniversary on Friday, has no doubt.

"Without a doubt Leo Messi is the best player in football history, he has made a huge mark on the world of football," he told the club's website.

"There is no club in the world that has had as much success as Barca, with a player that has won six Golden Boots or has five Ballon d'Or awards.

"He is a different player, who changes the dynamics of a game and creates incredible moments.

"It has helped us to be more global and, compared to other times, has created a very strong era and we will be transformed by this era of the team and Messi."

Barcelona are top of LaLiga ahead of visiting Atletico Madrid on Sunday.

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu highlighted Barcelona's economic strength and vowed to use the money to continue renovating the squad.

LaLiga champions Barca announced in September they are aiming to become the first sports club to generate revenue exceeding €1billion (£810.8bn) after making a profit for an eighth season in a row in 2018-19.

Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong, Neto and Junior Firpo came in during the close season, while Malcom, Jasper Cillessen, Andre Gomes, Paco Alcacer and Denis Suarez were offloaded on permanent transfers.

A deal for Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar notably did not go through, though, with Barcelona reportedly lacking money to fund a blockbuster return.

Addressing the club's members at Sunday's General Assembly, Bartomeu emphasised the importance of bringing in new talent while continuing to spend within their means.

"We have to continue renovating the squad to continue with this natural evolution with talent from both home and abroad," he said. "We are sure this will be a winning generation.

"I want to say that things are going well. It's a fact - we are the club that has the most revenue generated in the world of sport. 

"It should be remembered that on September 19, the club presented budgets that contemplated more than one billion euros in revenue."

On the field, Barcelona retained their LaLiga crown last season but exited the Champions League at the semi-final stage and lost in the Copa del Rey final.

However, Bartomeu pointed out the Catalan giants have overtaken their closest rivals in terms of major honours won over the past 15 years.

"Since 2004, Barcelona have never stopped to go for glory," he said. "We have changed coaches, players, managers, and bosses, but Barca never stopped winning.

"We have won 34 titles in the last 15 years. We are on top of the rankings compared to all European teams."

Bartomeu, whose presidency runs through until 2021, also confirmed renovation work on Camp Nou will not be complete until 2024, three years later than initially planned.

"We are waiting for the necessary licenses to start the renovation of the Camp Nou stadium," he said. "Summer 2020 will be the first summer out of the four which we will need to finish our new stadium."

Carles Puyol has turned down an offer to become Barcelona's sporting director.

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu revealed earlier in September that LaLiga giants Barca were in talks with Puyol over the former Spain defender taking up a position at Camp Nou.

Puyol played 593 matches in all competitions for Barcelona, while making 100 appearances for Spain, winning the 2008 Euros and 2010 World Cup.

He retired at the end of the 2013-14 season, having spent his entire club career with Barca.

However, the 41-year-old declined the chance to return to the club in a director capacity, stating personal commitments would prevent him being able to give his all to the job.

"In recent weeks, different news about my possible incorporation at Barcelona as sporting director has been published," Puyol tweeted.

"That is why I feel obliged to communicate to the whole family that, after weighing [the offer] up a lot, I have decided not to accept the club's offer.

"It wasn't an easy decision, given that I have always said that I would like to return to what I consider my home, but different personal projects in which I find myself immersed in impede me at this moment from giving the exclusive dedication that the post deserves.

"I would like to thank the club for the trust placed in me by offering me this position of so much responsibility."

The sporting director role has been vacant since Pep Segura relinquished his duties in July.

Barcelona players have no input into transfers and were not against the signing of Antoine Griezmann, according to club president Josep Maria Bartomeu. 

Reports in Spain claimed Ernesto Valverde's squad opposed the pursuit of France international Griezmann, who moved to Camp Nou from Atletico Madrid for €120million in July.

The LaLiga champions almost secured his signature 12 months earlier, but the forward ultimately chose to spend a fifth season at Atletico.

That decision was said to have upset Barca's senior players, including Lionel Messi, who reportedly favoured the return of former team-mate Neymar.

"The dressing room did not reject us signing Griezmann," Bartomeu told Barca TV.

"The players don't give their opinions on signings, it is the technical team who decide."

Barca ramped up their interest in Neymar after capturing Griezmann but were unable to come to terms with Paris Saint-Germain before the transfer window closed on September 2.

Another target, Matthijs de Ligt, opted to join Juventus, yet Bartomeu insists head coach Valverde has the tools at his disposal to forge a highly successful campaign.

"This squad is more competitive than last season's," he said.

"It's a small squad, but very competitive. Ernesto Valverde accepts the level of demand and I am expecting a lot from this season.

"De Ligt was one of our targets, but he decided not to come to Barca."

Lionel Messi has the option to leave Barcelona for free at the end of the season, but Josep Maria Bartomeu expects the club's talisman to stay.

Messi signed his latest contract in 2017, with the deal running until the end of the 2020-21 campaign.

However, reports in newspaper El Pais suggested the 32-year-old would be able to move away from Camp Nou on a free transfer in 2020.

Club president Bartomeu has now confirmed those reports, though he insisted Barcelona are not worried Messi will take up the option to leave, revealing Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Carles Puyol all had similar clauses.

"Messi has a contract that we signed two years ago and it runs for four years," Bartomeu told Barcelona's website.

"Before the last season, 2020-21, he can leave Barcelona, retire from football or play where he likes.

"Iniesta, Xavi and Puyol also had those clauses. For those players and Leo Messi, we don't need to worry.

"I doubt he'd want to play for another club, but he has earned liberty over his future. He's a big Barca fan and I have no doubt he'll want to continue until 2021 and we hope another year too."

Messi sustained an injury during pre-season and is yet to make an appearance this term, with Barcelona having gained just four points from their opening three LaLiga fixtures.

Barcelona halted negotiations over the transfer of Neymar when Paris Saint-Germain altered their demands, according to Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Neymar was heavily linked with a return to Camp Nou throughout the transfer window, with PSG publicly confirming the Brazil star wished to leave Parc des Princes.

But no transfer materialised and Neymar will remain part of Thomas Tuchel's squad, with Barcelona president Bartomeu ruling out a move for the forward in January.

Bartomeu revealed negotiations were extensive, though only because PSG's sporting director Leonardo indicated the Ligue 1 champions would be willing to sell the 27-year-old.

However, Bartomeu has claimed a move for Neymar was never likely to come to fruition once PSG changed their demands.

"In the winter window he's not an option," said Bartomeu in an interview with Barcelona's website. "The planning for next season is done in January, February.

"That will be when we get back to talking about the topic. But [not] if PSG keep asking for such high figures.

"We heard Neymar wanted to leave PSG and there was a moment when Leonardo opened the door to negotiations, for other clubs too.

"But during the negotiations, when the new demands of PSG appeared, we said that they were unassailable. We decided to stop the conversations.

"It's a sporting decision. The technical team said we should try to sign him. He would have been an extra for the squad. We didn't arrive at a deal because we could not match PSG's demands."

Numerous Barcelona players – including Ivan Rakitic, Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho – were reportedly considered in a swap deal, but Bartomeu insisted those names were not put forward by his club.

"Barca never put names on the table, they are players that PSG put there," Bartomeu said. "We could not match their demands."

Though Neymar did not arrive, Barca did spend €120million on Antoine Griezmann, while Frenkie de Jong – signed in January from Ajax – completed his €75million move.

Barca have made an indifferent start to their LaLiga campaign, losing to Athletic Bilbao and drawing with Osasuna either side of a 5-2 win over Real Betis.

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