The debt of Spanish football giants Barcelona has risen to €1.35 billion, the club's president has revealed.
Joan Laporta confirmed that the club had losses in 2020-21 of €481 million and was left with a negative net worth of €451 million.
Laporta blamed the club's previous administration for the "dramatic" and "complicated" situation that made it difficult for Barcelona to negotiate with players and ultimately led to the departure of Lionel Messi.
"Our salaries represent 103% of the club's total income, that's 20% to 25% more than our competitors," Laporta said in a news conference on Monday.
While presenting the club's dire financial situation, Laporta accused his predecessor Josep Bartomeu of countless "lies" and stated that he and his board of directors must be held accountable.
Bartomeu resigned last year amid financial struggles, but recently published a letter in which he denied any wrongdoing during his administration.
Nearly €390 million of Barcelona's debt is related to player salaries, while more than €670 million was debts with banks, and another €40 million was linked to membership losses. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was also €91 million, Laporta said.
"We have found ourselves in a difficult situation to renegotiate the players' contracts," he told reporters but said that the situation would be resolved within a few years.
"We are not scared at all, we are highly motivated. It's a big challenge but we are capable of overcoming it."
Laporta said the club intends to reduce salaries by about €200 million and focus on promoting youth players. This summer, Barcelona signed a number of high-profile free agents, including Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay, and Eric Garcia.
But the club lost star player Messi to Paris Saint-Germain because it could not give him a new contract that would fit within the Spanish league's strict financial fair-play regulations.
Barcelona defender Gerard Piqué said on Sunday that he had taken a salary reduction to allow the club to register some of its new players ahead of their first game against Real Sociedad. Other veteran players such as Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, and Sergi Roberto were expected to do the same.
"We are satisfied to have resolved this issue with Piqué and we hope that other captains will act along the same lines, the negotiations are going well," Laporta said on Monday. "We will soon reach the agreements we want to reach."
Despite Barcelona winning their first match 4-2, Laporta was the target of fans' anger on Sunday, with banners hung outside the Camp Nou stadium criticising him for not doing enough to keep Messi.
Laporta confirmed to reporters that the Argentine player's departure was "sad" but "necessary".
"We are convinced that the right decisions have been taken ... the institution is above all," he said.