With the team knocked off the top of La Liga for the first time in 59 rounds and in turmoil off the field, the former president's decisions may have wider-reaching consequences
By Paul Macdonald
In the pantheon of Barcelona figureheads, history will one day determine Sandro Rosell's legacy as a missed opportunity. An intelligent man undone by his own egocentricity, he has risked decimating the club’s position of power, all in the name of a self-written eulogy.
He is unlikely to be forgiven by the club's fans for what has been allowed to transpire. Yes, Mes que un club may represent an unfeasible idealism as football has become less a competitive sport and more of a corporate fantasy tournament. And of all of his supposed mistakes, Rosell’s Qatar contract that the Cules so loathe was an inevitable deal, executed to extract value not only at the time, but over the years ahead. Furthermore for the casual observer the trophy haul has remained plentiful, the football in the main era-defining. When given the option to deviate from the grand plan upon Pep Guardiola's departure, he chose Tito Vilanova, which, despite the unfortunate circumstances that followed, was the correct, sensible move.
But the formation of Brand Barcelona meant more capital to chase his own vision of the club, and in the process classless and ill-advised decisions were commonplace. The €600 million stadium redevelopment plan, despite the fact the current net debt is currently in excess of €330m, comes across as little more than a vanity project. The manner in which Eric Abidal was allowed to depart despite his triumphant comeback from a life-threatening illness appears all the more questionable given the Frenchman’s solid performances for Monaco. Victor Valdes’ desire to move to the same destination is at best eyebrow-raising. Thiago Alcantara’s switch to Bayern Munich represents carelessness at every turn.
It all began with Johan Cruyff. Rosell swept into power in 2010 and retracted the honorary presidency
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Rosell’s motivation appeared as transparent as could be – Cruyff was a Laporta ally. The man whose influence had formulated the position of prominence from which Rosell could mount his high horse had been excommunicated. This wasn’t the new president merely exerting his influence. This was the first step towards the reimagining of Barcelona, cleansed from the irresponsible spending and lack of refinement that Laporta brought as baggage.
Laporta & Rosell’s singular vision back in 2003 seems so distant that it is almost difficult to
remember, given the claims and counter-claims since that have made their shattered partnership
irreconcilable. The union lasted until Rosell’s departure in 2005. He believed that the agenda had been changed, and claimed the board were not "independent, transparent or democratic".
The diatribes from both sides have never ceased. Laporta famously announced in his biography that
Rosell had been desperate to sell Ronaldinho to Chelsea for a fee of €100 million, and made a disputed claim relating to a commission on the deal. Rosell branded it a “total and utter falsification”, and went instantly on the offensive. He commenced legal proceedings against Laporta and the previous board for the supposed financial discrepencies. Laporta’s accountants had reported an €11m profit in 2009-10. Rosell’s Deloitte audit instead reported a €77m loss. It’s here where the parallels can be drawn with the Neymar debacle.
The Brazilian’s name was first uttered by Rosell as long ago as 2011, when he described the chase for the player as "a long-term affair". He seemed desperate to attract the defining star of his presidency and had proven influential in bringing Ronaldinho to the club in 2003, the signing that many identify as the birth of the modern Barca. But for Ronaldinho, many read Laporta, just as Messi’s development into one of the greatest players ever happened on his watch. In hindsight it seems clear that, given the down-payment, the promises and funds that exchanged hands to keep all parties happy, the transfer was over two years in the making. It appeared Rosell was going to bring in Neymar whether the team wanted or needed him. He needed his own Ronaldinho moment.
The grudges, the yearning to do things differently, led to Neymar at all costs and he has paid the price for that single-mindedness. Rosell categorically denies any wrongdoing in the handling of a transfer that is now being investigated by a Spanish judge, but the entire saga has left Barcelona in disarray. The concept of acquiring a marquee player isn't the problem - his lack of diligence that put the club's reputation in jeopardy most certainly is.
And the directionless defeat versus Valencia last Saturday was remarkable for the type of capitulation, particularly at home, that the Camp Nou hasn't bore witness to since the pre-Pep days. Against a team who have had their own turmoil this season and remain vulnerable, their loss was a spectactular one. Rosell can't be blamed for players failing to get the job done. He is, however, responsible for the catalogue of misadventures that will unquestionably have turned heads, and caused focus to be lost.
And what of Neymar himself? His name is now inextricably linked to the downfall of a Barca president. He will need to remain strong-willed and self-assured in the year that may define his entire career in order to express himself freely. Rosell is gone; it is now his cross to bear. And he has to deal with the consequences of his enormous salary being made public by his employers.
Rosell sought to set himself apart from Laporta, to create the image of a better president. But his redefined legacy, the one he was so desperate to control, will suggest otherwise.