It's the day of reflection today. Following a full week of campaigning for the four presidential candidates, FC Barcelona stand just a little over 24 hours away from realising a new future. At 21:00 on Sunday voting ends and the ballot count will begin to see who will hold the mandate as club president.
The rules for the day are pretty straightforward. Only club socios are allowed to vote, but they all have to go to the Camp Nou on the day of the election to register their vote. Postal or electronic votes don't play a part in these elections, although the subject has been discussed by all four candidates. Given that all members do not live in Barcelona, not everyone who is eligible is allowed to cast their vote. The last elections which took place in 2003 produced one of the highest turnouts at just over 50,000.
This time round there are four candidates to vote for. By far and away the hot favourite is the former vice president Sandro Rosell. He left the club in 2005 after a fall out with current president Joan Laporta, and has been biding his time waiting for his moment to get back into a position of power. Rosell posted the highest number of supporting letters for his pre candidacy. In fact he had three times more support than Marc Ingla who was second. Third place went to Jaume Ferrer and the man who just scraped over the goalpost with the minimum required supporting signatures to be able to contest the elections was Agusti Benedito.
Over the past week, all the candidates have engaged in live television and radio debates with the final one being broadcast on Catalan TV3 on Friday. While in terms of policy and plans for the future there have been few surprises, clearly the outstanding performer has been the underdog, Agusti Benedito. He has made a name for himself with his reasoned debate, sharp wit and sense of humour which has served to lighten up some of the tension generated between the four men during the debates.
In general not too much separate the candidates in terms of their plans. But there are differences. While the other three candidates are in favour of selling the land that the mini stadium is built on to generate revenue, Rosell has proposed investing and redeveloping the seven hectares to set up a commercial area which would include restaurants a hotel, gymnasium and a park.
He also wants to redevelop parts of the Camp Nou and to build a new basketball arena which will have a capacity of around 12,000. He also differs greatly with the others in the amount of debt that the club actually has, estimating it to be closer to €500 million, almost twice as much as Jaume Ferrer for example has suggested. One of the reasons that Rosell has such an advantage is that he had announced his plan to run for the presidency almost a year before. It has given him time to plan his policies, but more importantly given him the advantage of putting himself to the club members well ahead of the other candidates.
Is there a rosy path to the Camp Nou for Rosell?
Marc Ingla, like Rosell and Ferrer, was a part of the Laporta project way back in 2003 when he came into power. Ingla has similar plans for redeveloping the stadium and favours the Norman Foster design for the Camp Nou which would expand its capacity to 106,000 and also build brand new hospitality and public areas.
The cost estimated at the time that the project was accepted in 2007, was some €250 million. Where Ingla is markedly different to the others is his stand in the expansion of the international marketability of the club to increase its revenue base. This would include setting up centres worldwide, and expanding the base of international socios. This has become a huge area of debate.
The likes of Ingla and Rosell are unequivocally opposed to expansion of international socios. They fear that the “Catalan” identity of the club would change, and that in future having 50,000 voting members in Eastern Europe or the USA, could mean that an international club president could be elected. This would take away the very Catalan identity that the club so fiercely defends. As a result many blogs written about these elections have been critical of some of this restriction in foreign socios. In some cases the accusation has even gone as far as alleging that at worst, this is xenophobic and racist behaviour as the candidates fall over each other to show how much more Catalan they are compared to their rivals.
Ferrer for his part is the only candidate of the four who has stayed right through the system working in the club. He has the support of Laporta and his main line has been one of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”. While Ferrer has Laporta's full backing, he has suffered immeasurably on account of the fact that he was not the president's first choice. Not even his second choice for that matter. But for the farcical inner divisions and wrangling at directorial level, Ferrer may well have stood a better chance fighting on the grounds that as the only candidate to have seen the club right through the process of change introduced in 2003, he can genuinely claim his role in the success of winning six trophies last season
Ultimately maintaining Barcelona's position as the best club in the world takes priority. In this respect there is no argument between the four over Pep Guardiola continuing as coach. There is little argument over bringing in a player like Cesc Fabregas, although how much the club should pay for him is a concern. While no one has talked big about bringing in superstars, it is widely accepted that the future of players like Yaya Toure, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Rafa Marquez will be decided by the new president. And while Benedito is completely in favour of leaving all the football decisions to Guardiola, concern has been raised about Rosell's plans.
It has been claimed that he would remove Txiki Begiristain and the whole post of Technical Secretary. This would suggest that decisions over players would be Rosell's and not Guardiola's. Rosell with his connections with Nike was key to bringing Ronaldinho to the Camp Nou. It’s believed that bringing in players would be a role he would very much hold onto.
Does Begiristain still have a future at Barca?
Rosell is also known to not be so close to Johan Cruyff whose whole influence and authority underpins everything that is Barcelona today. Ingla in particular has attacked the football wisdom of Rosell by underlining that the three most influential personalities that define FC Barcelona today (Laporta aside) were not supported by Rosell, namely Bergiristain, Cruyff and Frank Rijkaard.
It is worth remembering that the team that Guardiola controls today is ultimately and still the team that Rijkaard built. Xavi, Iniesta, Valdes, Messi all came through the ranks when the Dutchman was at the helm.
That brings it all back to the one key element that has been the common feature of all the candidates. The Catalan identity of the club. Perhaps the greatest irony of it all is that while the candidates score points off each other with their pro-Catalan posturing, Barcelona's football hegemony is built by foreigners.
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