They have suffered a calamitous drop in form on the pitch and last night it emerged that FC Barcelona are implicated a murky tale involving one of their star players.
The Catalan football giants were said to have ordered the Spanish detective agency, Metodo 3, to spy on its star defender Gerard Pique after they became concerned about his relationship with the pop star Shakira.
Senior figures at the club were reportedly worried that Pique's predilection for partying and his romance with the Colombian singer would damage his performance on the pitch. According to reports from the Spanish news website El Confidencial, Metodo 3 trailed Pique in 2010 to see how much time he was spending partying. Detectives were said to have logged the number of drinks he consumed and the time he arrived home in September that year after he went to a pop concert.
The club, which lost last night to arch-rivals Real Madrid, allegedly managed to persuade Pique that it was the Spanish tabloid press spying on him when he realised he was being followed. "The Metodo 3 detective agency spied on FC Barcelona players under orders from the then director of security and now director-general of penitentiary services for the Generalitat [the autonomous government of Catalonia], Xavier Martorell," El Confidencial wrote yesterday. It claimed Mr Martorell "willingly helped" keep the club's [former] manager Pep Guardiola "informed".
It was the first time the agency had been named as spying on players for FC Barcelona, despite rumours it had done so in previous years with stars including Samuel Eto'o and Ronaldinho.
Mr Martorell has admitted hiring Metodo 3. But he strongly denied allegations that he requested reports on figures within the CDC. An FC Barcelona spokesman said: "It has no documentary evidence that this ever happened and, as a result, we deny it."