Latest civil war leaves Barça in crisis and the president in a delicate position
Voices for early elections are growing after six board members resign en masse
With the simultaneous resignation of six of the board members at FC Barcelona last week, club president Josep Maria Bartomeu is mired in controversy and crisis, and without any football matches for his team to win to cover up the cracks.
Bartomeu had asked for the resignation of four of those members with the aim of filling his board only with people loyal to him, following a string of scandals in recent months that has sullied the club’s image. Instead, they brought two more board members with them, with all leaving their positions for a variety of reasons, but with a central theme of lack of confidence in Bartomeu's management of the club. They have also said that further board members are considering resigning in a further act of defiance against the president.
Two of those who left were vice presidents, and one, Emili Rousaud, was the man chosen by Bartomeu to be the continuity candidate in the next presidential election at the club, scheduled for 2021, but with calls from many on the outside to be brought forward.
Rousaud was only elevated to a position of vice presidency in January, and has quickly turned on the man still at the helm of the club. The morning after walking away, he gave an interview with Catalan radio and made the claim that “somebody had their hand in the till,” directly insinuating corruption among club hierarchy.
That allegation referred to payments to a social media monitoring company, I3 Ventures, which is reported to have been hired by Bartomeu to put out stories damaging the reputation of perceived enemies, including current players such as Lionel Messi, past legends, and former presidents. As well as that, the company’s responsibility was also said to be to post positive messages about the current management of the club.
If such actions weren’t scandalous enough, it was discovered that the payments made to this company were staggered and divided in such a way that the amount of money in each case fell just below the threshold amount that needed to be approved by the board. This way, the board never knew about the contract or the payments.
Handling of temporary layoffs
Some board members also left the club because of the handling of the temporary layoffs caused by the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Bartomeu denied that he leaked anything to the press, but it emerged in the press some weeks ago that players had rejected pay cuts. This prompted Lionel Messi and other players to upload a statement to social media detailing their “surprise” that “some within the club” would put pressure on the players to do something they were always planning on doing.
Messi, as the captain of the team, all time goalscorer, and arguably the best player of all time, naturally yields a lot of power among Barcelona fans. When he speaks, people listen. Added to this statement was an extra firing shot at the administration of the club, that they were going to go beyond the requested 70% pay cut and also give another percentage of their salaries to cover the wages non-playing staff at the club, which the board never said they would cover.
Some of the now former board members of the club have also been angry with how this played out in the media.
Sacking of Valverde
Bartomeu and his people have made other missteps that have painted them in a bad light in the public. Ernesto Valverde’s last game as manager of Barça came in the Spanish Super Cup semi final, which was played in Saudi Arabia. When the club were in that part of the world, they took the opportunity to openly court former midfielder Xavi Hernández, living and working in Qatar, to be their next manager.
Xavi is known to be tied with the presidency candidacy of Victor Font, who will run for leadership of the club in the next election. The former captain rejected the offer to take over immediately, while no communication was given to Ernesto Valverde, still the manager, who read the same stories everybody did about his own job in the media.
Ronald Koeman is then understood to have been offered the job but turned it down, only for the club to finally approach Quique Setién. They made it out as though it was a lengthy process to select the known Cruyffista to be the next man at the helm of the team, but in his presentation press conference he let it be known that he was surprised to be called, showing no long-term planning on behalf of the decision-makers.
Eric Abidal, Bartomeu’s director of football, gave an interview shortly after the managerial replacement, placing the blame on the players for not working for the coach. Almost immediately, Messi took to Instagram to defend himself and his teammates, calling Abidal out, saying that people in the board have to take responsibility for their actions, and saying that if Abidal was going to involve the players, then he should name names, because otherwise, it dirties the name of all the players.
As seems customary, Josep Maria Bartomeu came to power at Barcelona in a manner filled with controversy. The president before him, Sandro Rosell, left the club after being imprisoned and implicated in a corruption case over the signing of Neymar. When he stepped aside, Bartomeu was his man to take over. Rosell spent 21 month in preventive detention, before eventually being found not guilty.
Currently, there are elections to name the next year, but as the scandals pile up, so do the calls for early elections, as more and more voices in the club are rising to get rid of the president who seems to be constantly surrounded by disrepute.