​​Barcelona have denied allegations that club president Josep Maria Bartomeu paid a social media company to criticise club heroes such as Lionel Messi and Pep Guardiola. Spanish radio station ​Cadena SER claimed that Bartomeu hired 'l3 Ventures' to help improve his image and protect the reputation of his board. 

Messi and Gerard Pique were reportedly among those targeted in a series of social media messages, along with former Barca superstars Carles Puyol and Xavi Hernandez. The apparent whistleblowers suggested that I3 Ventures had Twitter and Facebook accounts that wrote numerous posts to alter the public opinion of the players. 

These included attacks on Messi's reluctance to sign a new contract at the Nou Camp while Pique was targetted following his project to revamp the Davis Cup. It is claimed that over 100 accounts were created in total and Barca paid the company around £830,000.

But the Catalan giants have issued an ​official statement denying any knowledge or involvement: "With regards to information published today about the contracting of a company dedicated to creating opinion on social media with a view to damaging the image of third parties related directly or indirectly with the club, Barcelona.

"I3 Ventures, a service provider to the club, has no relationship with the accounts mentioned. With the contracting of these services, the club is attempting to look after and preserve its reputation as well those of people related to the club."

Barcelona have had a couple of turbulent weeks and the last thing Bartomeu and his board need is yet another controversy, especially one hot on the heels of presidential elections that are due in 2021.

Barca will be back in ​La Liga action on Saturday at home to Eibar, three days before they take on ​Napoli in the ​Champions League knockout stages.