I am a firm believer that nothing takes place in this world within a vacuum and football is obviously no exception. This fact means that our beloved sport, whose fascination starts on the pitch, is deeply involved in the most unfortunate of things: politics. Because of the cultural and social meaning of the game, it has attracted not just the lovers of the sport, but also the sinister evil of politicians. And yet it’s still fascinating, still alluring, and still important. So we have to cover the politics here on this blog once every couple of years–what a terrible life I lead, no?
The Barça presidential elections take place on Sunday June 13, just 6 days from now, and will decide, really, what the next several years will be like. So who are the official candidates? In order to become one, you have to get a certain number of signatures from members (the number varies per election, if I’m not mistaken and this year it 2,095) and only 4 of the pre-candidates mentioned in my previous election post were able to meet that criteria:
- Agustí Benedito
- Jaume Ferrer
- Marc Ingla
- Sandro Rosell
This means that Santiago Salvat, Jaume Guixa and Alexis Plaza all failed to make the cut. I’ve put the candidates in alphabetical order and will go through them in that same order, starting today with the Benedito and covering the others tomorow (that is a time-constraint issue, not a statement of preference).
Also, please note that the pictures I’ve included of them were selected from as neutral a point-of-view as I could get so that no candidate came off looking worse than the others. This is me attempting to be objective about this and report the straight facts, but as with all things, subjectivity will creep in and my own opinions will form part of what’s being said, so please forgive anything that sounds tainted with opinion and please point out things I missed in the comments. I’m also not attempting to replace Pep’s Barcelona Elections blog, which is doing a fantastic job of keeping the English-speaking world informed of what’s going on in Electionville, Spain, but I am attempting to compliment that site with my own take (see how subjectivity already creeps in? Even facts can be subjective at some level).
Agustí Benedito i Benet. Born June 22, 1964 in Barcelona. Official site.
Benedito is a Catalan businessman in the automotive industry, soci numer 34,235, and was one of the founding members of Elefant Blau in 1997, the group that effectively ended Josep Lluís Núñez’s tenure as FCB president (1978-2000). It should be noted here that the main founders of Elefant Blau were Joan Laporta and Sebastià Roca and that the group’s vote of no confidence against Núñez actually failed at the time and their subsequent presidential candidate, Lluís Bassat Coen, lost the 2000 election to Joan Gaspart, one of Núñez’s VPs.
I previously failed to inform all of you that Benedito was a member of Laporta’s 2003 presidential campaign and ended up working in both the sporting and social sides of the club until February 2009 when he left the administration due to differences with Laporta stemming from the “caso Uzbek” (the scandal involving Laporta and Uzbek businesses looking to by Mallorca and earn Laporta a hefty commission; you can read a little bit about it here).
Benedito’s official “platform” is here in PDF form, though it’s also entirely in Catalan.
His plans include keeping Guardiola (Spoiler alter! No candidate has mentioned anything other than keeping Guardiola…surprise!), but axing Txiki Begiristain from his role as sporting director and José Ramón Alexanko as director of youth development. His views on youth academies appear to be that they shouldn’t really exist outside of Barcelona–the logical conclusion from his statement that he’d rather be looking for players is that they would be purchased individually rather than creating a system in which they would grow up and slowly feed the club with talent from around the world. Rather than spending huge amounts of money now to get “free” players, you would spend smaller amounts on individuals who would meet the same needs later. He is also in favor of keeping the UNICEF shirt deal going until it expires, though what he plans to do after that is unclear.
The economics of the club are not his strong suit and his plan rattles off several catchphrases (for instance: “increased revenue in recent years has been offset by increased spending”) while he provides no concrete steps to change any of that. In a recent debate he suggested that Barça’s debts, listed as €489m, is no big deal and that we can work through and around it without selling the Miniestadi or any other Barça-owned assets. He does promise, however, to consult the best economic minds in the world (“Encargaremos un estudio exhaustivo a los mejores expertos independientes sobre la estrategia óptima de gestión económica del Club”–“We will commission an exhaustive study by leading independent experts on the optimal economic management strategy for the club”). He also wants to remodel the Camp Nou, though again, he offers no particular insights into how to do that.
When it comes to the socios, Benedito seems to be pushing the idea that the members own the club and it should be more obvious that they do (for instance, he wants to make sure that FCB negotiates deals with TV broadcasters to make sure all members get the signal for free–a lot of games are on pay-per-view in Spain). There’s no mention of any limits or nationality requirements for members on his site; instead, he pushes the idea of creating two new concepts of membership: “associates” and “barcelonistas”. The former is for locals and the latter for foreigners who don’t want to be full members of the club (and implicit in that is that they could become members, but it is not explicitly stated). Because of the fairly ambiguous nature of these statements (for instance here and here), it’s hard to nail down what he is really looking to do in terms of the membership. He does want to knock off 50% of the ticket price for non-season-ticket holding members while also maintaining the same membership cost.
According to his site, Benedito is also in favor of creating a program called Becas Barça (Barça Scholarships) to provide students with the ability to study various subjects that relate to Barcelona, such as sports medicine. Beyond that, he suggests that a way to provide discounted memberships to those members who have fallen on hard times should be found.
My take: Benedito seems to be a man with a lot of social aspirations for the club, but few concrete ideas on how to handle them. He’s an astute businessman, it appears, but he’s lacking the umph of a well-rounded candidate. His ideas (the 50% ticket price cut for most members, for instance) come off as pie-in-the-sky ideas that we can all get behind if we ignore the economics involved. Still, because the current situation is all about economics, sometimes the very important social issues do get pushed to the side and it’s nice to see Benedito taking the stance that the club should be more involved in the local and international communities that it is a part of. He takes a hands-off approach to the sporting side of things, which is good–he states several times in his debates and interviews that he will leave Pep to his own thing. His wishes to get rid of Txiki and Alexanko are strange in that light, but that is more board room politics than it is sports-related, so it’s more understandable.
Would I vote for him? No, but he’s a stronger candidate than I thought before I started this research. He wants to have voting by mail, which would be fantastic for foreign members such as myself, but his ambiguous statements about who would be allowed to be members–he’s never been nailed down this, remember–put me off a little because of my views about the club’s meaning and direction. He’s certainly has the least likelihood of winning the presidency, but I’m happy he’s running.