Més que un elección – the fight for power at FC Barcelona

by David Bevan

There’s change coming to the Barcelona background setup, as the club goes to the polls to see who will lead the club into the next chapter of it’s illustrious history.

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The background

A lot of blue. A lot of red. And a dash of yellow here and there. The political landscape of the United Kingdom may be changing, but those colours remain symbolic of FC Barcelona. And while the UK has already gone to the polls, Barca’s members, their socios, must wait until Sunday 13th June for their vote to count.

One thing is certain: there shall be a new president at the Camp Nou. The current holder of the position, the ubiquitous Joan Laporta, has come to the end of his second term and must therefore step down. There are many candidates to replace him but it appears that a duel will ensue.

Laporta’s preference, the ‘continuity candidate’ backed by the current Barca board, is current assets vice-president Jaume Ferrer. First appointed to the vice-presidency of marketing and media in November 2007, Ferrer will hope that the majority of socios back his promise to continue the good work carried out by Laporta.

A vote for change?

His primary opponent, Sandro Rosell, was once a trusted ally of Laporta. Now, he is anything but. In a recent interview given to a Spanish newspaper, Laporta labelled Rosell and his supporters “spoiled and resentful people”. So much has changed since they stood alongside each other, both broadcasting beaming smiles.

Rosell was Laporta’s running mate for his successful 2003 campaign. Although born in Barcelona, he had worked as an executive in Brazil for Nike and was instrumental in the signing of Ronaldinho after the winning ticket lost their initial promise, David Beckham, to the Bernabeu.

Relations between the two started to turn sour once they assumed office. Rosell resigned his vice-presidency two years after their victory, claiming that Laporta had failed to carry out the plans they had originally formulated for the club.

Under the surface

The plot thickens amid revelations late last year by Catalan newspaper El Periodico that the current regime used a detective agency to spy on four vice-presidents, including Ferrer. Nevertheless, the continuity candidate has been decided and Rosell stands against him.

Perhaps the most interesting developments in the last few weeks have concerned not Rosell, nor Ferrer, nor any of the other candidates standing for election – namely Francesc Mane, Agusti Benedito, Jaume Guixa, Santiago Salvat, Alexis Plaza and Marc Ingla. None of them have been directly involved in the whisperings that Barca are close to reaching an agreement with Valencia for the acquisition of striker David Villa.

Or have they? Rosell alleges that mere football is not the only reason for Barca’s interest in Villa at this specific moment in time. Instead, his suspicion is that Laporta is pursuing the Spanish international in order to boost the current board’s candidacy and that Arsenal’s talisman Cesc Fabregas has been similarly sounded out for a return to the Blaugrana.

Furthermore, Rosell also suggests that Barca will pay an inflated fee for either Villa or Fabregas in order to secure a signature prior to the opening game of the World Cup on 11th June. Two days later, it is election day in Catalonia. The timing could scarcely be better for Laporta and Ferrer.

The Pep factor

Big-name signings are one thing. Big-name managers are quite another. Just as Beckham improbably became Ronaldinho, the likes of Villa and Fabregas could quite easily turn into another world-class striker or midfielder as long as the team benefits and the supporters’ clamour to match Real Madrid in the transfer market is addressed.

But Barca have another superstar name in addition to Messi et al. He played his last game four years ago for unfamiliar Mexican club Dorados de Sinaloa. However, he is more famous for his 250 league games for Barca and subsequent transition to the dugout. His name is Pep Guardiola and his services seem vital to the continuity of Barca’s current success on the pitch.

There’s that C-word again: the one that Rosell rails against. With the team performing well, continuity must be attractive to the socios and Ferrer looks best-placed to provide stability by maintaining the board’s relationship with Guardiola. Indeed, it is said that the coach himself has identified Villa and Fabregas as the two players which Barca should pursue over the summer.

The 3 R’s

Once more, the past plays a part. There were once 3 important R’s in the Barca setup: Rosell, Ronaldinho and Rijkaard. The Dutchman coached Barca to back-to-back league titles and ensured they won only the second European Cup in their history at the Stade de France four years ago.

The appointment of the former Zaragoza player in 2003 was a strange one. Having led Holland to the semi-finals of Euro 2000, Rijkaard then surfaced at Sparta Rotterdam but his spell there ended in disaster with ignominious relegation from the Dutch top flight. So his arrival at the Camp Nou heaped pressure on the newly-elected Laporta. And, of course, Rosell.

Following a shaky start to the 2003/04 season, Rijkaard looked vulnerable. Laporta is adamant that Rosell wanted the coach to be fired. Instead, Rijkaard stayed on and it was Rosell who left the board the following season. Barca were victorious in Paris a year later.

On the bench

When Rijkaard left, Laporta gambled by replacing him with Guardiola. Although a legend as a Barca player and having enjoyed a successful stint as coach of their second string to boot, Guardiola was not the big-name manager that many expected. Nearly two years after arriving in the hotseat, Guardiola’s record speaks for itself.

The candidates are understandably falling over themselves to praise Pep and reassure the socios that they would extend his stay at the club. Guardiola, however, was appointed by Laporta and that fact may be enough to complicate any future relationship between the Barca coach and potential president Rosell.

Guardiola’s new contract remains unsigned with the majority of observers convinced that his putting pen to paper is reliant on the outcome of the forthcoming elections. Add the impending departure of technical director Txiki Begiristain into the mix, subject to a possible plea to stay from the successful presidential candidate, and you are left with a fascinating summer at the Camp Nou.

The action may be coming to a close on the pitch as Barca attempt to stave off Real Madrid in their quest for a second consecutive La Liga title. Off it, things are about to get very interesting indeed.

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