And then there were two …
Now that Joan Laporta has declared for the elections and we know that Bartomeu is already in, the two 1,000-pound gorillas are set to square off. Yes there are other candidates and the most interesting platform is that of Origen FCB, but reality is that there are only two candidates who have a viable shot at this thing, barring any compromising photos or new court proceedings.
What is absolutely fascinating is that there is, in reality and dependent upon the lens you use to have a gander, very little to choose from between them.
Laporta can say, “Do you want more of this?” and show a photo of himself with treble trophies.
Bartomeu can say, “Do you want more this?” and show a photo of himself with treble trophies.
Both presided over first-year coaches who had an historic season. Both assumed office under complex circumstances, both had prominent board members resign during their tenure.
The challenging thing is, of course, to look at both of them with fresh eyes unburdened by views of the past, and base a choice from that even as the complexity is that the most comforting choice is (as usual with elections) a candidate who doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. I am very interested in hearing a lot more from Agusti Benedito. Jordi Farre also has excellent things to say and Victor Font is strong. But it’s still Laporta and Bartomeu.
The biggest task facing Bartomeu is to present himself as a “new” candidate rather than a continuation of Rosell. Even Freixa (who is running himself) and Faus won’t be part of Bartomeu’s board should he win the election. A rather astute person on Twitter asked what bad things Bartomeu has done since he has been president. If you think about it, the answer is pretty much … nothing. Every negative thing related to his candidacy occurred during the Rosell administration.
— Crap Masia management.
— Neymar contract
— Transfer ban
— Shirt (and unofficial stadium naming) sale
You name it, and it happened while he was vice president. During his tenure as president, there are things that a cule can rightly raise eyebrows at, which is different from being bad, per se:
— Throwing Zubizarreta under the bus.
— Not immediately stepping down and calling for elections right after Rosell resigned
— Using incumbent power to begin his campaign with a series of key renewals
— If you know stuff is shady, why take part?
Club bylaws dictated that Bartomeu assume office after Rosell stepped down, and it’s worth noting that Laporta, after Rosell and other key board members resigned, didn’t step down and call elections either. Again, similarities.
Bartomeu decided to weather any storm and keep Enrique as coach, if rumors about jobs being in danger had any truth to them. Yes, there is a veritable conga line of legal proceedings facing the club, and it’s unfortunate that the president who was presiding at the time is off somewhere, counting his money and leaving Bartomeu as the face of the club and ostensibly, the face of corruption and mismanagement of key areas of FC Barcelona.
The real question is what did Bartomeu do? It’s like the person in the front car of a roller coaster taking credit for the ride’s success, particularly if it’s true that Enrique’s job was never in danger. Simple reality is that he was club president while the team got its crap together and won everything. As realtors say, “Location, location, location.”
But in many ways, that unknown quality is what is perturbing about the Bartomeu candidacy precisely beCAUSE of those links to the past. He is part of the group that has the club with a permanent seat in courtrooms. Masia, a potential renewal with Qatar, a nation with a complex history as regards public perception and its World Cup bid, the transfer ban, etc. So his challenge remains how to paint that as the fault of his predecessors rather than his own, and to lay out a cogent, palatable plan for governance that involves more than “Hey! More trophies! That other stuff was the other guy”
But this is also true of Laporta, who is essentially running on the nostalgia ticket. The predominant questions surrounding his candidacy on the lips of many culers seems to be “When are Cruijff and Guardiola coming back?” And Laporta wants it that way. His presidency during a period of astonishing sporting success obscures things such as his Great Uzbek Adventure, a mess involving fees received for friendlies that landed him in court; spying on folks; cooking the books in a favorable way (just as Rosell did — truth is somewhere in the middle) and using the club for personal political gain.
Both candidates even had to deal with censure motions started by a soci, Oriol Giralt in Laporta’s case and Jordi Cases in the came of Bartomeu, though that was aimed more at Rosell and the Neymar proceedings. Only Laporta’s got to a vote, where 60% of the voting socis wanted him out. He stuck out his chin, chose not to step down because well, the real number required is … Of course as we remember in the Rosell matter, the percentage of socis required to force a censure motion went from 5 to 15%, effectively scuttling the Rosell move before it even began. It’s like the front-runners are the same.
Laporta, therefore, isn’t all magic dust and trophies. But because memories of Coldplay songs, a weeping Guardiola and all-conquering sprites are still fresh in culer memories, Laporta has a head start before he even does anything. There is talk of Puyol and Abidal being attached to his candidacy in some way, ploys that to my view are rather shameless trucking in the past and using that as a reminder and implication that there is more to come.
Both candidates will have to present a clear, coherent plan of governance that discusses the club’s future rather than some “chicken in every pot” pablum that will say things like, “Masia must be strong, the club must play the Barça way, blablabla.”
Also crucial is the board that each of the front-runners proposes. Laporta was able to work so much magic at the beginning of his reign because his board was exceptionally good, including the likes of Rosell and Ferran Soriano. They could handle the financial and marketing side while Laporta dealt with the human and political side. That team set the wheels in motion to build a powerful, global Barça that in many ways spawned the colossus we see today. That management in effect made sure the parties were paid for properly. When that (then) cadre of young whizzes left on horses named Dudgeon, Laporta’s presidency went off the rails for many observers, a reality that leads to justifiable qualms about him in the coming elections.
Bartomeu on the other hand is the triumph of the marketing guys, and we have seen what hanging out a “for sale” sign can do to a club in the name of marketing. Do we want that in the president’s chair for six years? There is also the stadium matter. Without question, Barca needs a Camp Nou that is capable of standing, revenue-wise, with the demands of the modern game, from luxury boxes to ancillary entertainments. The previous board has a proposal on the table, nebulous though it is. We know roughly how much it will cost and kinda how it will look. But that project has the potential to saddle the club with a metric crap ton of debt, or if it works out as the previous board suggests, will leave the club with a glittering showcase that will pay for itself in a few years.
If Laporta is smart he will say as little as possible, and let memories run his campaign for him. But Bartomeu will have a bit of work to do not to convince the more conservative socis who weren’t all that fond of Laporta in the first place, but socis who are on the fence and remember the good times of the past, vs the more recent good times.
This is a race that boils down to the lesser of two evils, as do most elections. The two front-runners are vying to assume stewardship of a club that has to decide whether it wants to be a global player with Catalan roots, or a Catalan institution peering out through drawn shutters. Whoever wins is going to have to make some difficult decisions about the future of the club and the team. Soci numbers are down dramatically since Rosell took office, from a high of almost 118k to around 106k. That is significant, even if the income from those soci fees is but a drop in the bucket to a club that projects 600m in revenues for next season, because it means people are, for whatever reason, choosing to leave. This broad, global view is part of the perception that both candidates will have to successfully manage.
Someone asked via Twitter regarding qualms about Laporta, didn’t I want to see more bright, shining talents coming out of La Masia. This was a fascinating comment because it implied that Laporta was somehow responsible for the Masia glories that pepper the first team. But again, it’s the guy in the front car of the roller coaster getting credit for the successful ride.
La Masia is complex. It’s a collection of youth talent that is being groomed for a futures as FC Barcelona players. Of the hundreds of kids that will come through the academy, precious few of them will make it to the professional ranks, period. The number of them who will ascend to the ranks of players good enough to perform for the first team of FC Barcelona, currently the best team in the world, are miniscule in context. There were errors made in the management of La Masia, and the wrong coach was chosen to lead Barça B, an bungle compounded by the succession of Jordi Vinyals.
The most important thing about La Masia is grooming its talents to play the Barça way. Position in the table doesn’t matter all that much. Coming up from a Segunda B side didn’t hamper Busquets’ development in any way. Talent is talent. But you can’t have Barca B playing in a way that is “wrong” in the first team context. The first team will adapt its tactics, but the roots of those tactics are a way of playing learned at the academy. But a great many people are only paying as much attention as they are to the B team because of the Masia talents that have sparkled in the first team of late. Those talents have also inflated perceptions of the success rate of La Masia. There are more Jonathan Sorianos and Gai Assulins that come out of La Masia than Andres Iniestas and Xavis, more Muniesas and Fontases than Puyols and Piques. It’s important not to mistake La Masia for what it is, which is a talent crap shoot stocked with kids.
As far as each candidate goes, the past is the past. Thinking of Cruijff and Guardiola as you sigh wistfully at those Laporta for President posters is no more valid than grimacing as you think of Rosell, transfer bans and lawyer fees when you think of Bartomeu. What is at issue here is what each president will bring to the club and who will be on his board. There is talk that Laporta will ally himself with Puyol in some way. Hats off to him for respecting a legend, but in what way? The initial talk was as sporting director, and that gave me pause. Can a guy who served under ZubiZa for about 14 seconds really serve as sporting director for Barca? Should he? More recent rumors are not sporting director, but that Puyol will in some way be involved in the campaign. Be wary, and question everything.