thumbnail Hello,'s Ashish Sharma takes a look at Barcelona's upcoming presidential elections...

As of June 14, 2010, FC Barcelona will be facing in a new direction. Or even if it seems similar to the one that has been pursued in recent years, there will at least be a new captain to steer the ship.

According to the number of letters of support gathered by all the pre-candidates from the club socios, that skipper is someone already familiar with the hierarchy at Barcelona. On Tuesday the results of the signatures supporting each of the pre candidates returned one outstanding result. The club’s former vice-president Sandro Rosell, who so spectacularly fell out with Joan Laporta in 2005, put in the kind of performance and pulled off a result that only the football team of Barcelona are capable of doing. 

Rosell received more signatures supporting his candidature than all his other rivals put together. His 13,618 names beat Marc Ingla into second place by a good distance. Ingla received 4,774. The Laportista in these elections, the man who wants to continue in the Laporta legacy, Jaume Ferrer was third with 4,442 signatures. The drama though belonged to Agusti Benedito.

His team spent the whole day fighting to reach the minimum number of signatures required by the statutes of the club to contest the presidential elections. That figure stands at 2095. With just ten minutes to go before the official time to declare supporting signatures was due, Benedito turned up presenting 2,896 signatures which allowed him to be considered as a candidate for the elections. It meant that three more hopefuls, who failed to reach the minimum requirement, have dropped out of the race. The four pre-candidates will now wait while the legitimacy of their signatures is verified. Once done they will become the official candidates and their campaign for the presidency begins in earnest.

That the advantage lies so clearly with Rosell is not a big surprise. While Ingla, Ferrer and Benedito have been fighting their corner in the last few weeks, Rosell has had several years to prepare for and wait for his moment. But at least Ingla and Ferrer are strong insiders of the club.

Ingla left Barcelona as a director only two years ago, while Ferrer is a current club director. He is the representation of continuity and of ‘Laportaism’ and he carries the full support of the president, Joan Laporta. Ferrer has launched scathing attacks on Rosell, suggesting that while the former vice-president quit to snipe at the board of directors from outside, he continued to serve the club.

Benedito has also been strongly related to the club having been involved in working with several other candidates in past elections. However the most tantalising aspect of his candidacy is that he is likely to run his campaign based on the recovery of the values of the Elefant Blau [Blue Elephant].

This was the name given to a protest group of Barcelonistas in the late 1990’s in which Benedito and Joan Laporta were key players. The group opposed what they saw as the loss of traditional values in the club and wanted more supporter democracy and transparency in how the club was being run. Those very values of the Elefant Blau group are the ones that Benedito has referred to throughout his pre-candidacy. However he has consistently failed to spell out his policies, preferring instead to wait until the official campaigning gets underway.

To look at policies, however, it seems inevitably that one has to look at what Rosell is proposing. So huge is the support around him that while there is precedence that a candidate with the most signatures ends up losing, it seems unlikely to be the case this time round. 

Rosell was Joan Laporta’s running mate in the 2003 elections. Indeed it was Laporta who was the last candidate who went into a campaign in third place based on the number of supporting signatures, but who went on to win the election. Rosell’s links with the club and with Laporta are colourful if nothing else. After a hugely successful election campaign back in 2003, Rosell declared that the club was 80% confirmed in signing David Beckham from Manchester United, only to see the England international swan over to arch rivals Real Madrid. However that slap on the face was quickly rectified.

Rosell used all his connections with the Brazil squad, in his time as a Nike executive, to convince Ronaldinho to join Barca and ignore the overtures from Manchester United. However like all promising relationships, the egos of Laporta and Rosell soon collided and less than a couple of years later the vice-president resigned his post.

Rosell complained that Laporta had reneged on all his original plans and promises, and accused his one-time friend of authoritarian management tactics which he used against other directors. The rift between the pair escalated after Rosell resigned and has again resurfaced in its full hostility in the build-up to next week’s election.

But in the end when the club’s 100,000-plus socios vote on June 13 for a new president, the arguments between directors in the past will be forgotten. Instead it will be what the candidates are planning for the future that will make the difference. Without a doubt all four sing from the same hymn book when they say that Guardiola is untouchable. All believe in a strong squad, the cantera system and keeping Barcelona on top of the football pile. All of them are in love with Cesc Fabregas and see his arrival as imminent. None will be able to take the claim for that should it happen, as ‘Operacion Cesc’ has been approved by Joan Laporta, much as the signing of David Villa is.

Rosell has huge ambitions for the land on which the mini stadium, opposite the Camp Nou is built. In an interview in Sport, Jordi Moix a key component of the Rosell team, suggested that instead of cashing in on the land, Rosell wants to redevelop the whole area. Several hectares will be given over to building a commercial area, a hotel, a park, sports centre for the socios, restaurants and creating a green space.  The idea is to not only give something to the clubs members, but also to stimulate the whole of the Les Corts area where the club is based. No figures for the cost of this redevelopment have been released yet, but all the investment will be repaid by the returns from this new redevelopment Planning permission would also need to be confirmed by the Catalan government.

Rosell is also looking to invest some €30 million in updating and increasing the interior capacity of the Camp Nou, Plus some €50 million in building a brand new Palau Blaugrana for the basketball team with a capacity of 12,000 by 2012. He has also controversially hinted that he may consider turning to shirt sponsorship deals, a move that could potentially pocket the club up to €20 million-a-year, but it would break the long-standing, cherished tradition of not having any paid advertising plastered across the players’ jersey.

Rosell also wants club members to have more of a say in how the club is run. He, like all the other candidates, is very strong on the issue of the club being Catalan and marking its identity, but also that it’s inclusive of everyone else.  His slogan for the campaign is “Tot soms el Barca” [We are all Barcelona]. Rosell also talks about wanting greater financial transparency. Only this week he claimed that the club’s debt is around €500 million and not the €200 million that the current club board has maintained.

It’s a hugely ambitious project. The other candidates have also presented ideas about the modernisation of the Camp Nou, looked at ways of increasing club member’s involvement, and asked for greater financial security and transparency. Yet the momentum seems to be sitting with Rosell. Perhaps more than anything it’s because he has the charisma and the charm to present his case better than anyone else. In that sense, he is very similar to Laporta.

The irony of it is that for all Laporta has tried to do to maintain his legacy, in the end, he may be handing over the keys to the castle to the person he dislikes the most. To the person who is probably more like Laporta than anyone else involved with the club.

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