It is with, believe it or not, a heavy heart that I write this:
Sandro Rosell is no longer president of FC Barcelona. The man who has done so much to inspire so much scorn from so many culers, the man who ensured that the club’s unfortunate legacy of eating itself from within continues apace, is gone from the club boardroom, having resigned for the second time. (He also resigned from the Laporta board in 2005.)
Why a heavy heart, many wonder, since my dislike of him has dated back to before he won, when he was running on a “more Catalan than thou” platform, crabbing about “transparency” and saying that Joan Laporta was responsible for everything from club debt to trench mouth and bathtub ring.
Back then, it was a “feeling,” the notion that something wasn’t right. But I love this club more than I dislike any president, and the club that I love shouldn’t have to go through this, time and time again. Maybe our presidents need an iron hand so that any dissent is washed away in a blizzard of money. Maybe socis need to just be quiet when they have misgivings, and watch their Messi highlight reels.
But that just wouldn’t be Barça, nor should it be.
But my heart is also heavy because my club, the club of which I am a proud soci, deserves better. For me, it all started with Rosell’s assertion that African kids at La Masia were taking spots from Catalan boys, as if there were some sort of footballing affirmative action program that discriminated against the next Iniesta.
From there, it was the whole Catalanisme business as a prop more than a feeling as he and Laporta positioned themselves in the “mes Catalan than thou” sweepstakes.
In the comments sections of many a piece in this space, people would ask me what I had against Rosell, that I was being irrational and unfair. And then more things began to happen.
First came “austerity,” the notion that his predecessor had saddled the club with so much debt that, famously, we had to stop making color copies. A blogger on club finances, The Swiss Ramble, calmly explained what Rosell was doing, which was essentially charging everything possible as debt, to come up with a number that dwarfed the small profit that Laporta claimed as he left. It was on this plank that “austerity” was born.
Then the board decided to close membership. People focus on the foreign part, but he closed it to everybody. Even if you were born next door to the Camp Nou and wanted to become a soci, if you didn’t already have family by blood linked to the club, forget it. The club later relented, and offered a Commitment Card, by which after three years of paying a fee the club might let you become a full-fledged soci. The Card had to be renewed in person at the Camp Nou, a move which many said did indeed discriminate against foreign socis. Not for me. If you love the club enough to become a soci, you love it enough to visit Barcelona three times in three years.
Then he sold the shirt, using a backdoor maneuver by which the man he detested, Laporta, had gotten pre-approval from the Assembly. The board struck a deal with (then) the Qatar Foundation. We later found out that not only did their 30m per mean they could put anyone they wanted on the shirt … it included Camp Nou branding as Qatar Airways signage occupied pride of place and Qatar Airways was painted on the seats, where heretofore had only been the vaunted “mes que un club.”
Then the list began to accelerate quickly, from the Brazil corruption allegations that involved friendlies and kickbacks, to his public falling out with Johan Cruijff that led to one of the club’s icons vowing to never set foot in the Camp Nou while Rosell was president.
— Pep Guardiola left the club. He said it was time. People who disliked Rosell suggested something deeper, that board stuff was driving him out. We will never know, but we do know that the scurrilous campaign waged against Guardiola, using visits to a sick Tito Vilanova as a lever, drew the former coach out of his corner, swinging.
— Eric Abidal, despite being told by the club that he would be renewed whenever he was healed from the cancer that threatened his life, was jettisoned via “mutual decision” in a weepy (well, the player anyhow) press conference. After Abidal battled cancer not once, but twice to return to the club that he wanted to retire from, that situation blew back on the board, fair or not.
— The Grada d’Animacio plans came up, a project interrupted by the Mossos d’Esquadra saying “Whoa, hang on.” It was widely thought that this was a way to allow the Boixos Nois, a group that Laporta worked hard and endured much to remove from the Camp Nou, back in. The project was scrapped, even as allegations that a deal was struck with the Boixos for their support in the election continued to burble just below the surface.
— Viagogo, a ticket reseller with rather fortuitous access to tickets to FC Barcelona matches popped up, along with questions about whether Rosell was still a 5% stakeholder in the company.
— One of the best goalkeepers in the world, Victor Valdes, decided to leave the club, on a free transfer. Valdes said that he wanted to seek other pastures, that he had played in Barcelona long enough. But at a photo opportunity for Qatar Airways, all the first-team players shook Rosell’s hand except for Valdes, who walked past without even looking at the club’s president.
— The B team, the root of the club’s futbol base, is falling apart in the hands of a coach that most culers think is not up to the task. So we watch a batch of immensely talented players run around like headless, planless chickens as B languishes too close to the relegation zone for comfort. Meanwhile, seven youth player contracts for players who are the best or among the best at their positions in Europe, ooze toward expiration. Neglect or distraction? Part of the plan? All good questions.
— And then quite possibly the straw that broke the camel’s back came in the Neymar transfer, a deal shrouded in secrecy and third-party transactions. The cost to the club was said by Rosell and the board to be EUR 57m. Then things really got messy when rumors of a price that far exceeded that began percolating.
A soci, Jordi Cases, wanted to know some details of the transaction, as there were questions about many things including a 40m payment allegedly made to Neymar’s father. The club claimed confidentiality and threatened Mr. Cases with censure. At that point Mr. Cases chose to take the case to court, to seek his answers there.
— Finally came the inevitable, the announcement of the Nou Nou, built on the husk on the old one, a nebulous announcement in which a few things were clear, all involving more: money, seats, luxury boxes, restaurants, at a cost of EUR 600 million.
In the past, there were referendums promised and meetings postponed about the project until finally, the board decided that socis wouldn’t even be asked about it. We, the board, have decided that it will be a renovated Nou, and you socis get to vote yes or no. Period.
Through all of the board’s dealings, a group that ran on the platform of full transparency and soci accountability chose a different path at every opportunity. And now, after all of this, a president is gone.
From Nunez and Gaspart, Elefant Blau and Oriol Giralt, from Go Barça and Sandro Dimissio to Rosell, this sporting club has been, for decades, riven by internal strife. Enemies come from within and without. Giralt forced Laporta into a skin of his teeth censure motion that he barely survived, enjoying the best revenge by appointing Guardiola and winning everything under the sun.
A censure motion was in the works against Rosell before the board decided to invoke Spanish law and say that the traditional 5% of socios, which had always been the standard, was now 15%. Sorry, kids. The motion was shelved and the dissenters chose a different tack, which is where Mr. Cases comes in.
FC Barcelona, as a business, was always run kinda like a local grocery store that had really cool dudes hanging around. Rosell came in with the idea of reducing debt and maximizing profit by building the club as a marketing entity. In addition to the deal with the Qatar Foundation, sponsorship deals were struck with Panasonic and Intel. Irrespective of how you feel about their austerity picture, club debt was being reduced, and fast.
And the stadium is, logically, a good idea. The Camp Nou, unlike most stadium complexes associated with giant European football clubs, is like a Segunda stadium that seats a lot of people. You come for the match, and you leave. Aside from sponsorships, ticket sales were mostly the only revenue. Even the concessions sucked. The Nou Nou planned to change all that and drag the stadium that featured what is for me, the best football club in the world, into modern times.
The Rosell board also had an excellent history of transfers culminating in Neymar, an attacker many dismissed as a YouTube sensation who is in fact a monster, and not only on the pitch. He is also a marketing bonanza, who further increases the possibility of the club being able to add sponsorships. The Rosell board’s transfer list includes Javier Mascherano, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song, Adriano Correia and Jordi Alba.
So anyone who thinks that the Rosell tenure was a miasma of corruption and transparency the equivalent of opaque glass smeared with mud, is mistaken. The board has done many good things and was learning others, such as how to defend the shirt when players came under attack via rumor and innuendo.
But ultimately, it’s still about a feeling, and failure at the very thing that Rosell and the board based their campaign on: transparency. From business dealings to transfers to decisions taken behind closed doors, our now ex-president and his board pretty much never chose the conciliatory, transparent path.
Why did he resign?
Ultimately, who knows? Detractors will say his chickens came home to roost. An uglier rumor is that Rosell has been receiving serious threats against his person and family, that the Mossos have records of contact with him in this regard. Still other rumors say that he was pushed by people on the board who have been against the way he has been doing things.
But let’s be clear about this: everything is an allegation. Neymar contract, Brazil rumors, Viagogo, Boixos, etc, etc … all allegations. Is it the death threats? Laporta received them during his campaign to eliminate ultras groups from the Camp Nou, and persisted.
Rosell, at the stadium project press conference, stuck out his jaw and challenged the judge to call him to explain the contract, that he would be happy to, that the operation was “impeccable.” A few days later, he’s gone. What happened?
At the resignation press conference Rosell spoke about the election, and the 61% of voters that went for his slate. He asserted that he and his board represented the club “perfectly,” like the generations of Barça supporters before them.
Rosell has cited the threats to he and his family, things that have made him ask whether “it is really worth being president of this club with my family under threat.”
He insisted that the Neymar transfer was correct, lectured about confidentiality and the value of it. Then it all came to an end with “That is why my time at this club has to come to an end,” after referencing the threats.
But the questions remain. And no, I do NOT believe that a president should be able to scuttle down the ratlines, appoint his crony as his successor and say “business as usual.” Socis elected a president, not a board, even as the succession of Bartomeu is in accordance with club statutes.
And still lingering in the air is, “Did he jump, or was he pushed?”
The interim club president is Josep Bartomeu. He remains in place until the end of the current board term, 2016. This of course, presumes that Mr. Cases doesn’t expand the scope of his legal proceedings to include Bartomeu, who is expected to continue along the same path as Rosell. It is difficult to believe that anything will change as regards how the club is run. For many culers, this is unfortunate.
What also happens is that many culers become grownups. Since Annus Guardiolus, this club has picked up piles of new followers and supporters, who were used to the good times. The team plays, it wins. Yay! But now those same culers understand that the history of this club involves strife and contentiousness. It isn’t just the culer notion that whatever the worst thing than can happen will, it is the reality that politics are as much a part of this club as footballing success.
Many will decide to ignore all of this. Why bother? Keep the head under the covers until the team starts kicking a football again. That’s okay, too. But as strange as it sounds, by not coming to grips with the fullness of being a culer, you’re missing out on the fullness of the experience. Culers didn’t just weep with the joy of those Guardiola-led championships. It was the fact that joy came without pain. The team just won, and it was beautiful. No infighting, no nothing.
It was almost with a sanguine, “That’s how it is” that culers accepted the subsequent heartbreak, Abidal, Vilanova, Guardiola leaving, the karmic pendulum swinging in the other direction. So much joy, thinks the culer, has to also involve some pain. And so it was.
What about the team?
I expect that the team will be unaffected. They are professionals. They have dealt with a beloved player and a just as beloved coach battling cancer. They have dealt with the most successful coach in the team’s history deciding to leave. Pros deal with stuff like this, because it’s their job. As for Neymar, who will henceforth be known as the player who has brought down a coach (in Brazil) and a club president, who knows? Are there pro-Rosell culers who will boo him every time he touches the ball? Possibly.
And what of that contract, that is now part of a legal process? Another good question. That the contract is legitimate isn’t in doubt for many. The club’s lawyers aren’t stupid. That the transfer cost more than the club says is also not in doubt. There are a host of possible outcomes that make impossible to say what will happen.
But that isn’t the point. The point is that a man who should have resigned from his elective office, did. Whether he was pushed (internal board battle) or chose to jump, is for me immaterial. How a problem gets fixed isn’t as important as that the problem is fixed. Did Sandro Rosell have the best interests of the club at heart? In his own way, I believe that he did.
But he also failed the club in a way that changed the perception of it, irrevocably. Like doctors, at first, presidents should do no harm. If they do harm, they should assess the extent of it and take the appropriate action to fix it. If they fail, they should resign. For this culer and soci, Rosell chose the correct path. Now comes the uncertain future.