The return of the King (of Catalunya)

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This is a guest post by Isaiah, founder of The Offside Barcelona and who dragged me over to this enterprise with him. It’s wonderful to have his voice back in the space, albeit on a semi-quasi, one off, emeritus status and all that jazz.

This was never supposed to be about Joan Laporta. Not really. It was a damsel-in-distress-saved-by-knight-in-shining-armor-hashtag-fcblive narrative that conveniently included a side plot involving the character assassination of an ex-friend.

I imagine a post-victory scene — an immense mahogany room, plush carpeting, the victors lounging with ties hanging around their necks having just finished a meal of lobster and steak, the top two buttons of their expensive shirts undone, and puffing on Cuban cigars. Toasts of the finest cava are being tossed up like confetti, and then there’s a hush as one man … who knows who, as the moment is lost to time, silences the crowd and says, “But wait, what if — no, hear me out! — what if we also got Joan to pay restitution for the losses incurred during his tenure? He’ll never know what hit him!”

There is laughter, a smattering of applause, someone seconds the motion and there are more toasts.

That would be a scene worthy of any soap opera, but the reality is probably sober boardroom discussions, a subtle suggestion, a few nods and a PowerPoint presentation. Joan Laporta, he of the late-night Luz de Gas party scenes and odd pool party decisions, was an easy target in some ways, but he became an unhealthy obsession for an administration supposedly dedicated to the re-emergence of a club from financial disaster into a brave new world of modern financing. The sideshow became the main event and everything else became irrelevant. On-field success was only a means to greater institutional change.

And, indeed, on-field success was virtually expected when Rosell took over, but still there were recriminations and legal actions. In some ways, it comes off as pathological, as a need to take revenge for past slights. It’s hard to square with the reality, but as Ramon Besa explains in El Pais:

Rosell se preparó para dirigir a una entidad desde la miseria, y de ahí su apoyo a la moción de censura contra Laporta. No varió de estrategia ni siquiera cuando asumió la presidencia en un momento de esplendor deportivo, personificado en Messi y Guardiola. El entrenador se entregó a la causa azulgrana hasta que se dio cuenta de la trampa: la deuda heredada era la excusa perfecta para justificar la acción de gobierno de la directiva de Rosell.

[My own translation:] Rosell was prepared to lead an organization [Barça] out from misery, hence his support for the vote of no confidence against Laporta. That strategy did not change even when he took office at a time of sporting glory, personified by Messi and Guardiola. The coach stuck with the Barça until he realized the trap: the inherited debt was the perfect excuse to justify legal action by Rosell’s board.

Rosell turned a personal vendetta into an institutional assault on a private individual, alleging tens of millions in losses covered up with creative accounting and used the power of one of the world’s largest sporting institutions to pursue the case in court. He was then forced to resign due to allegations of financial malfeasance, which was for many a fitting end to a regime that started by publicly declaring financial shenanigans just days after taking office.

In an October decision, a Spanish judge largely agreed with Joan Laporta’s financial statements and rejected those of Sandro Rosell’s administration, citing a 4 million euro profit from the final year of Laporta’s time in office. Laporta had claimed an 11 million euro profit while Rosell had claimed a 70 million euro loss (sometimes mentioned as 80 million euros). These were not minor differences, and are also a testament to how accountants can manufacture pretty much any number out of thin air if they so choose. Amortization, dates of payments, all of these factor into the final numbers, but they can moved around, as Rosell’s original number showed when the fee paid for Yaya Toure was moved from Laporta’s profit column to Rosell’s.

Beyond the Joan-Sandro spat, though, lies the current board, a group that despite Rosell’s departure, has maintained the court cases. And that is the crux of the current problem: Josep Maria Bartomeu is hardly a rank outsider. Under Laporta, he served as the basketball team’s director from 2003 to 2005 and subsequently joined Rosell’s board at the beginning as the first vice-president. He and his board have continued to push an agenda of personally destroying Joan Laporta for his perceived and real failures and the perceived and real failures of Laporta’s administration. It felt hollow from the beginning and it maintained its hollow sound whenever it was examined with the simplest of taps throughout the ensuing years and court cases.

And now we stand at a crossroads, with Bartomeu seemingly electing to take the path toward appealing the ruling in favor of Laporta. This is merely a doubling down, a re-commitment of the club’s resources and time in an effort to personally skewer a one-time ally. The socis have been left with little recourse, with Rosell having forced through an increase to the number of signatures required to hold a vote of no-confidence, from 5% threshold to a nigh-unattainable 15%.*

Among the many moves Rosell and Bartomeu have made, including selling the shirt front, the vendetta against Laporta ranks very high in the Waste of Time, Money, and Goodwill Department. It’s notable that this is the administration that has achieved a transfer ban for failing to properly achieve FIFA/UEFA signoff for youth products, yet it continues to harangue a former president over what amounts to roughly half of Luis Suarez’s transfer cost. The club continues to extol its economic sustainability while hemorrhaging moral authority on the global stage. From the Neymar saga and the alleged lost millions to cuddling up with Qatar (from the Foundation to the Airways), there is neither transparency in their actions nor rigorous scrutiny from a cowed electorate that is no longer allowed to actively participate in General Assemblies.

It is not a particularly great stretch to say that Joan Laporta laid the foundation for all of this and that he is by no means an angel descended from heaven, but it is also not a great stretch to say that he has come out of the porta-potty that is this court case, smelling of roses. It would be surprising if he didn’t run (and win) the next election. Maybe he’s a bit of a loose cannon but it won’t matter, not after he emerges victorious in the appeal and drops another charismatic interview in which he rightly points out how successful the team was under him. Just please don’t bring back Hleb.

*The latest Barcelona annual report indicates membership is at 153,458, meaning a vote of no confidence could be achieved by obtaining 23,000 signatures. Given that Sandro Rosell was elected with a record 35,021 votes, obtaining 23,000 signatures seems a tad much of an ask.

On a fairly unrelated personal note, I have moved on from writing regularly for and commenting at BFB, but I can guarantee you that I continue to love this team and I continue to watch on as regular a basis as my schedule affords. I have recently moved to Frankfurt, Germany and if you’re around those parts, I would be thrilled to have a beer with you during a match. Feel free to tweet at me (@rockofthune) and we can go to the local Penya. And if you speak German, I’ll buy you a beer for translating for me.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

11 Comments

  1. luisthebeast
    October 31, 2014

    I know that many people will disagree with me but i believe a company and f.c barcelona is a company need capitalism and not elections and democracy.There are people with power behind any laporta rosell or obama but in countries people must have the illusion that they decide for their lives.I hate capitalism but we must play the game.So lets find ours florentino and thats it

  2. Dar_vincy
    November 1, 2014

    Being a massive fan of the Lord of the Rings triology, the caption made the post instantly enrapturing to me.
    I have cogitated long and hard on why a bloke who patently seems a power-monger could somewhat give it up seemlessly and honourably.
    And it struck me that it wasn’t gonna be gravely laborious to relinguish power to your political buddy who would consequently be occupying the corridors of power as opposed to your sworn enemy.
    That provides him with the leverage and platform to exert a surreptiitous
    measure of influence.
    The marked dichotonomy that exists between Laporta and Rosell lies in the fact that while the former’s madcap idiosyncrasies are well apparent, the latter’s shenanigans are thoroughgoingly clandestine.
    Perhaps that explains why Joan is a bit likeable and Senor Rosell attracts disgust. More so, his surface rectitude and holier-than-thou attitude further renders him an unendearing character.
    Seeing that we would not be comfortable getting caught up between scylla and charybdis, hence prompting an electoral choice in the lesser devil (Laporta), I would love to know from the well-informed commenters here what other credible alternatives we have in the next election aside Laporta (if he contests) and Bartomeu.

  3. Peter
    November 1, 2014

    The initial sentence is against Laporta, part of his board and Zurich Insurance.

    First some background:

    1. Real estate deal 1. Sant Joan Despi. On the 29th of December Laporta sells to the company MCM, that initially partially builds and partially pays for La Masia (and which would be exploiting the image rights of La Masia, another kettle of piranhas entirely, which would need a post of its own and is as ugly and disgusting as it gets for a Barcelonista) a piece of land. That real estate is pronounced to cost 21.5 million and is entered in the accounting books as 14.6 million Euro profit. MCM buys it by paying the VAT(IVA in Spanish) and the promise to pay the rest starting in 2013 depending on the profits from the image rights of La Masia. Afterwards Rosell would re-purchase that land for the amount paid(the VAT) plus an amended contract for the image rights of La Masia, due to the fact that at the time of sale the property was not technically separate property(i.e. is not in the registers, nobody knows its exact location, size and dimensions, and it cannot be sold and accounted) and also due to the fact that MCM has no apparent resources to pay. There has been one single offer for that real estate, in the whereabouts of 1.6 million Euro. This is the piece of land that Laporta entered in his 2009/10 books as 14.6 million Euro profit.

    2. Real estate deal 2. Viladecans. Bought earlier for 1.2 million Euro, it was sold to Barcelona for 18.5 million Euro, with the intermediary getting 3 million Euro(16% commission, the normal fee is 4% to 5%) . It turns out that the terrain which was going to be used for Barça park is not legally allowed to be used for such functions. The assessments made in 2010 considered the price to be a best 5.5 million Euro, but so far nobody has offered even that price.

    3. This is the biggest cause of losses, the Sogecable trial. A contract was signed between Telefonica/Sogecable and FC Barcelona, according to which Barcelona would give all its proceedings from International competition of ALL teams, in return for a fixed sum. Sogecable started a trial for unpaid sums against Barcelona in May 2007 and won the trial, because in 2005 Laporta´s administration unilaterally decided not to pay anything to Sogecable. In January 2009 the initial sentence ordered Barcelona to pay 57 million Euro to Sogecable. The decision was appealed, and the second sentence on the 15th of September 2010 confirmed the first, ordering Barcelona to pay 57 million Euro. In the end of 2011, after the final verdict, FC Barcelona and Sogecable reached a compromise, according to which the amount to be paid would be lowered. That still generated enormous losses for Barcelona, 30 million to be precise. You might want to pay attention to the dates, because they may have a serious connection with the moment when Rosell decided to break with Laporta. What is more interesting is this: Laporta and his board knew that they must put provisions in case the appeal was lost, since it had already been lost in the first level. But they didn´t. They acted as if the legal case, in which they had no legal leg to stand on, a legal case which was already lost on the first level, they acted as if it had been won!

    What is the role of Zurich Insurance here? Well as it turns out, in the proverbial last day in office Laporta signed and insurance policy with Zurich, which included the insurance in case of legal trials for losses incurred during the period of management of Barcelona. The maximum amount payable would be 25 million Euro. In this policy, Laporta included himself and fifteen of the 17 directors that are currently on trial. Zurich Insurance is right now paying for all the lawyers that defend Laporta and his board. There are fourteen lawyers. The costs of that defense as of right now are 1.1 million Euro. In case of a verdict in favor of Barcelona, the Swiss will deduct the legal costs from the amount payable to Barcelona. In case you need it spelled out: if Barcelona wins, it will have paid for the lawyers against whom it was fighting.

    And now we reach the trial verdict.

    The judge admitted in their entirety the accounts of Barcelona. In other words, for him it’s sustainable that in the final year of Laporta there were losses, incredible losses to the amount of almost 70 million. In other words, when Laporta came out saying his board had left 11 million Euro profit, he was lying. That’s not an opinion, that’s a fact. And Isaah, here´s one more fact: whether by ignorance or intent, when you say that in his final year Laporta had 4 million Euro profit you are not telling the truth.

    But let’s get back to the judge and his sentence.
    After certifying the accounts of Barcelona, the ones which Rosell and Deloitte presented, the judge certifies that directors have an objective responsibility to cover losses (if losses are incurred, they have to be covered), not subjective as claimed by the defendants’ fourteen lawyers(only losses which can be verified that were made with malicious intent have to be covered).

    This is where the judge starts differentiating. For him it’s clear that Barcelona incurred serious losses, but he does not view that all the losses are Laporta´s fault. To be more precise, he reaches a verdict that 26 million Euro of the losses incurred in 2009/10 are responsibility of Laporta and his men. For that reason, counting the profits from the other years of the whole mandate (2003 to 2010), in which he sustains that there were profits of 30 million overall, he reaches a conclusion that Laporta left the club 4 million Euro richer than he found it. In the seven years of his mandate.

    How does the judge reach that conclusion, if he certifies that the accounts presented by Rosell are correct?

    1. Dismissing the Sogecable trial, because the final verdict was reached when Laporta was not in office, and the quantity that Barcelona paid was lower than the initial amount ordered. Okay, but here’s the rub: Barcelona was convicted two times to pay 57 million Euro, first in January 2009, then in September 2010. When Rosell was barely in his third month of presidency, a trial which had been going for more than three years before he entered office, was lost not for the first, but for the second time. It was for Rosell and his board to clean up the mess. It was for Rosell and his board to pay what Laporta had decided not to pay during his time. When in winter 2011 FC Barcelona reached a compromise to pay a lowered penalty, it was the work of Rosell and his board that lowered the penalty, not Laporta’s.
    2. Dismissing the devaluation of the Viladecans, because that devaluation of 11.5 million was made by Rosell. According to the judge, since Rosell didn’t try to continue the project it cannot be verified that the independent assessment that the terrain costs at best 5.5 million is true. It doesn’t matter that Rosell couldn’t have continued with the project, because the terrain was not allowed to be used for the project. For the judge it cannot be verified that Rosell was acting objectively(for the good of Barcelona) or subjectively(personal vendetta). Despite the independent evaluation, despite the legal prohibitions that make it impossible to continue with the project.

    And you wonder why Bartomeu decided to proceed with the appeal? You call it an attempt to tarnish the image of Laporta, you call it personal vendetta, you portray it as a scene from The Sopranos/The Godfather, when the judge certifies the accounts, when the judge gives reason to Rosell/Bartomeu in eight of the eleven points of contention?

    In his press conference the other day, Laporta was all his old self, joking, throwing soundbites, portraying himself as the faulted human with typical human sins, but who nevertheless left a prosperous club covered in glory. He portrayed the trial as a vendetta and persecution out of envy by Rosell and Bartomeu. . He told the board to resign because they weren’t voted by the socis. He said it would be the honorable thing. He asked that if they appeal, they pay from their pockets the legal costs, in order not to hurt Barcelona.

    I wondered if some of the journalists present would ask him this:
    When he spied on the club’s directors he was suspicious of working against him, and on the players and on future political rivals, did he use his money or did he use the money of the club?
    When he’s defended by Zurich Insurance, which pays for his lawyers, which payments will then be deducted from the payment to Barcelona in case of a favorable trial, does he use his money, or uses money of the club?
    When there was a vote of no confidence against him, did he pay for that with his own money or money of the club?
    When he showboated private jets and parties, did he use his own money or did he use money of the club?

    Now that I am finished, there´s something most of you don’t know. I’ve been portrayed here as the knee-jerk defendant of Rosell and his corrupt vampires. What you probably don´t know is that I was a supporter of Laporta. I viewed his antics as no more than what was due to a man who steered the ship in turbulent waters (2007 was when the crisis started and when I came to Spain, and here in the Canary Islands it was even uglier than in the rest of Spain) and brought joy in times of gloom, while maintaining a positive balance, while winning unheard of glories. Initially I viewed what Rosell did as nothing more than a personal vendetta. But you can´t just trust your feeling, you have to have proof. You have to be informed, or do your best, because when you open your mouth, it´s the mouth of a culé, the mouth of a barcelonista talking against the established powers of his beloved club. So I looked for information. I tried. And then the more I dug, the more I read about the debt, about the management of Laporta, the more I began to doubt my own feelings. Then a day came, when I read about the MCM contracts, and I realized that I was no more a Laportista. These days I´m labeled a Rosellista or probably soon Bartomista, but these labels are wrong. Before I was a Bartomista, before I was a Rosellista, before being Laportista, I have been a Barcelonista(and I got the card to prove it. 😛 ).

    Before anything else, I am Barcelonista. I can do no other.

    • Jim
      November 1, 2014

      Peter, your contribution to this blog becomes more awesome by the minute, whether one agrees with the assessment or not. Thanks for your time and effort. Fwiw, I’ve not got a great head for figures ( or politics) but my gut feeling tells me Bartomeu is someone who deserves support at this time for the way he has carried out his duties since he took over. I was beginning to question his judgement over why it was worth continuing the upheaval in the club and I’m still not convinced but at least now I can see both sides.

      Thanks again.

    • Peter
      November 1, 2014

      Jim, gut feeling is okay to a certain point. We need to be informed to the best of our ability. We have to be informed, because when we choose, because we have to choose, when we choose, we need to be absolutely certain of our choice.

      For me the greatest mistake is deciding not to choose, but a very close second-best is choosing without being informed, because in that case we run the risk of having our choice used against us.

    • deerwithwings
      November 1, 2014

      I’d like to second Jim’s statement.

    • November 1, 2014

      Peter, I dislike anybody being labeled anything, mostly because I get a lot of that. Excellent comment.

      What makes it feel like a vendetta now is the club’s reluctance to let it go. At some point, what does it matter? What is the benefit to the club, and at what point does it just become “Nyah, nyah!”

      Nobody is (I hope) under any illusions that Laporta is the savior or white knight. There hasn’t been a clean president in this club’s modern history and I doubt that there will be.

      As the football team goes, so goes the president and his board. Win, and everything’s groovy. Lose, and the natives storm the ramparts, whether in form of Oriol Giralt, Jordi Cases or Vicens Pla. To the victor go the spoils. It’s why Laporta was citing Cruijff and Guardiola in his presser, and why he will, barring a successful appeal, stand for president in 2016. And as I stand there with my ballot, I will have no idea what to do, if the choice is between Bartomeu and Laporta, except hope that a viable third candidate will have emerged before that time.

    • Peter
      November 1, 2014

      Well, as of right now the benefit of the club in case of a favorable verdict is to the amount of up to 23 million Euro from Zurich Insurance (up to 25 million minus legal costs). If the favourable verdict is above that sum, the rest would have to be paid by the trialled ex-directors.

      For the club that equals to the maintenance costs of all the non-football sections for one entire year, it would practically double the after-tax profits, while bringing justice and establishing a legal precedent for future presidents – you either break even, or you pay from your own pocket. You can look at it as Presidential Financial Fair Play regulations.

  4. November 1, 2014

    Excellent comment, Peter. I would like to point out that it would have been better to focus on the team they inherited (the best ever, in my opinion) than those 60M euros. Lost lawsuits don’t help the club in any way.

    Laporta has his faults, certainly, but when I think of the Barça presidents I have witnessed in my life – Núñez, Gaspart, Laporta, Rosell and Bartomeu – only one has been good to us.

    Rosell and Bartomeu have been an embarrassment.

    • Jim
      November 1, 2014

      Not sure what Bartomeu has done wrong, Lev.

    • Peter
      November 2, 2014

      It’s looking in retrospect, but I think one real fail on Bartomeu’s part is not giving Tata Martino his full unflinching support. If the president bares his teeth at the entorno and tells the culerada “This is our man. We will give him the support he needs to recover the team!” It could’ve been quite different. Or not.

      Hindsight is 20/20, they say, but I think about Tata and what he would’ve done if he had the pre-season, no tour, the budget Lucho had, and I see a wasted opportunity.

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