It’s times such as this one that leave the devoted culer with mixed feelings.
On the one hand, there’s the irrpressible glee that a shadow that has loomed over the club since Sandro Rosell resigned, is gone.
On the other hand, there is sadness that it was allowed to continue for so long, that someone who, if we are to believe him, truly had the good of the club at heart and couldn’t see the damage he was doing.
And then there is the anger, the righteous anger at the reign of managerial terror at the hands of a group of people who seemed to, one by one, anger the crown jewel of the club until this summer transfer window, when Lionel Messi snapped.
Joesp Bartomeu and his entire board have resigned. The chronicles of their madness are here for those willing to search. But the biggest problem, and what ultimately did them in, is their complete and total inability to act like anything remotely clued in to human management. When Messi sent the infamous Burofax heard ’round the world, the only thing many of us could think is the old adage that employees don’t leave companies, employees leave managers.
And then came the video, where the indictment was clear. The recent quotes from Gerard Pique in La Vanguardia were just piling on, gilding the lily that had already been severed at the root by Messi. And then came the censure motion, a heroic effort in which, during a pandemic that all but eliminated travel, almost 20,000 socis voted “HELL YES” to a motion of censure, one that the board tried to deny, tried to delay. When the election was clear, further delaying tactics ensued, and Bartomeu as recently as 24 hours ago, said that he hadn’t thought of resigning, which is as big a lie as any of the ones that he has told during a term that began with a treble but has been slaked with institutional failure since then.
Even when the team was winning, the club was fiscally foundering with unhappy players, a managerial revolving door and neglect of a sporting project that culminated in a treble of a different sort, three straight years of increasingly ugly Champions League eliminations.
People will point to the sporting project as the thing that done did them in, the thing that made it all inescapable. But for me, the fiscal high-wire act tantamount to a wire walker doing a jig in a tornado, shenanigans that threatened the future stability of the club they pledged to love and protect, is one of the biggest things. But also the human — or rather, inhuman side of their management, hiring an internet firm to do dirty work, issuing sly digs at players that forced even Messi to speak out, leaping only to their defense via huffy press statement from the club. Josep Bartomeu will go down in history for me as the worst president that FC Barcelona has ever seen, and that is saying something for a club with the shitbags Barça has had.
He failed his players, he failed the supporters, he failed the sponsors, he failed everyone connected with the club. And whether he intended to or not is immaterial to this discussion. He will say that he only had the best of intentions, that he is now stepping down to prevent further instability at the club, instability and rancor caused by his brazen ineptitude. And all any of us can say, really, is don’t let the door hit you in the ass.
That he has scuttled down the ratlines leaving the next president — for now an interim group until official elections — with a veritable shitshow that includes a massive loan he just took out, players signed to eternal contracts who shouldn’t be, long-term contracts in exchange for deferred pay rises, and oh … he’s agreed to FC Barcelona joining this proposed super league. (This will have to be approved by the Assembly, of course.) His departing remarks were, unsurprisingly for a man with no sense of the moment or humanity, self-aggrandizing and as bereft of remorse as those of any true egomaniac. He took credit for bravery in calling the keeping of Messi “unpopular,” and spoke of the courage required in setting up a revolving door for mopes that we know as the team’s recent managerial changes.
He presented himself as woeful and beleagured, a man working to do his best for an institution that he loves, but doesn’t love him back. His farewell remarks were also interminable, as befits a man who will slide deftly into the anonymity of any other failed accountant. It was an ugly thing, befitting the end of a period of institutional pustulence. He even claimed that they overcame the death of Tito Vilanova, just one more ugly thing coming from the mouth of a man seemingly bereft of any ideas about self-reflection. “I have no idea why everybody says I suck. They’re clearly assholes.”
And like a true Renfield, he called the imprisonment of his maker, Sandro Rosell, “unjust.”
Socis also brought down Rosell, who resigned to kick off a doblete of failure by a pair of men linked by more than the scent of brimstone. Bartomeu was Rosell’s hand-picked number two and his successor, buoyed not only by a treble at the hands of Luis Enrique’s marauders, but by gaudy, many would claim also fantasy fiscal numbers. They had plans for a new stadium, a new complex, so many plans and so many things. They bought players, expensive baubles that didn’t meet any of the club’s real needs, while other aspects were allowed to decay. And then came a pandemic.
In many ways, the forced shutdown created by the pandemic forced complex decisions upon the men running a club with the highest wage bill in football. When Messi sent them the notification, reports are that some board members wanted to let him go. Bartomeu dug in his heels. Pay the release clause, or report to training camp. And trapped by legal binds, not wanting to take a part of his family to court, Messi donned the Blaugrana and pledged to do his best for the only club he has known. And Bartomeu claimed victory when, like so much of the other stuff that he had done, it was a loss. It was a loss of face, a loss of leadership, a loss of control. It was also the last straw, and the censure motion kicked into vibrant, unyielding, heroic life.
There is nothing good to say about this presidency. It started with a treble that they had nothing to do with, and rolled downhill to an abysmal 8-2 hammering at the hands of the best club in football. Its biggest and most expensive transfers, also the most expensive in club history, are all so far, failures. There is no redemption for Josep Bartomeu, nor should there be. That he jumped before he was pushed shouldn’t come with any dignity or any absolution. Only joy at the end of the reign of a despot. When he was elected, I wrote in this very space, let’s see what happens before we condemn. We saw, and it was brutal, progressively worse year after year.
Every president has had failed transfers. That’s part of the game. And the high-stakes fiscal madness of running a giant football club is crazy in every city, at every club such as FC Barcelona. But at the end of it all, you have to be human. That Joan Laporta was the only FC Barcelona president of the last five to finish his full term, and even he barely survived a censure motion, shouldn’t make this Bartomeu departure feel in any way ordinary, like business as usual. The damage that he has done to FC Barcelona, in the sporting and financial senses, will take the next president some time to unravel, amid a pandemic that will leave the seats empty at the Camp Nou for some months to come.
That is a tale for another time. For this time, there is only joy. If public gatherings were allowed, perhaps there would be one at the famous fountain in Barcelona, of socis singing “Ding, dong, the witch is dead” as they celebrate a departure that is none too soon, but entirely too late. Farewell, Josep Bartomeu, and good riddance.