Josep Maria Bartomeu hits back at Joan Laporta in Barca presidency race

Josep Maria Bartomeu has hit back at comments from Joan Laporta as the two former Barcelona presidents settle into what looks a two-horse race in the club's upcoming presidential election.

Laporta launched his campaign on Monday by saying Bartomeu's outgoing regime had success on the field with the team inherited from the previous regime, but had sullied its good name by agreeing sponsorship deals with Qatar and getting into legal trouble over the signing of Neymar in 2013 that has since proved controversial.

The lawyer and Catalan nationalist politician, who was Blaugrana president between 2003 and 2010, also had a PR coup by naming ex-Barca player Eric Abidal as his sporting director, while saying he had such a close relationship with the current side that he and superstar Lionel Messi had a "telepathic" relationship.

Replying later on Catalan radio station RAC1, in quotes reported by AS, Bartomeu first said that he had no special psychological powers, but had worked with coach Luis Enrique to ensure Messi played well and Barca were successful on the pitch.

"[Messi] is a value of Barca, and Luis Enrique has known how to get very good things out of him," he said. "I do not have telepathy, but when I want to speak with him I call him and that's it. We are closing a winning cycle and opening another, but in silence."

Laporta had said that the upcoming poll offered a clear moral choice to socios, by saying: "Bartomeu and Rosell are Qatar and we are Unicef". Bartomeu countered by saying it was Barca's members who chose their shirt sponsor, and would so so again in the autumn from the options available.

"We took on the services of IMG who looked for companies for us," he said. "The only real offer, serious and in writing, is from Qatar Airways. I left it in the hands of the club's director general, so it will be available to another candidate if they win the elections.

"All the time, there are more companies interested. The executives are still looking, until October we will try and find the best. The board will not decide which shirt sponsor, that will be the AGM of socios."

Bartomeu, whose regime went to court to try and find the previous board legally responsible for overspending during Laporta's time as president, also again spoke of how financially responsible he and former ally Sandro Rosell had been when in charge.

"We received an unsustainable club, without a future," he said. "With the strong box empty and with no chance of paying the wages. In five years we did not raise season ticket prices. We came in with debt of €450 million and now it is €250m."

According to Catalan sports paper Sport, Bartomeu's bid have a secret Spanish player lined up to join the club should he return as president, with the name planned to only be revealed in the final week of campaigning before the vote on July, a rumour which may or may not be linked to the claim by another candidate Jordi Majo that Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos has been offered to the club.

"I have nobody signed," he said. "All the candidates can look at the market. I like a lot of European players, and others who play in La Liga."

Asked about Abidal, who was controversially released by the club when he was president after having returned to play following two life-threatening illnesses, Bartomeu said he was "not surprised" Laporta had allied with the former France international.

"[Abidal] is free to do what he wants, and he forms part of Barcelona's heritage," he said. "I am not surprised that he has gone with Laporta. We must keep advancing, and every candidate will have their own ideas."

Abidal spoke at Laporta's launch event, while not giving much away about his plans for new signings should he return to the Camp Nou as sporting director.

"It is an honour to be at Laporta's side," he said. "I am very excited. I see myself well able to take on this responsibility. Barca is more than a club and I wanted to keep working with this. I know Laporta very well, and we have a lot of confidence.

"He always says what he means, and we will not hide anything. It is beginning from the start, to find the new Messis, Iniestas, Xavis... I hope all the socios share with me excitement for this project."