Posted on October 2014.
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.