There is a boardroom battle raging at Barcelona right now and nobody is quite sure how it's going to end. Indeed, with the situation changing on a seemingly daily basis, it's become somewhat difficult to keep up with the latest developments.
In addition, influential figures who had previously operated in the background are now becoming protagonists in front-page news.
With that in mind, Goal has decided to provide some insight into the most important characters in this ongoing soap opera, from the boardroom to the dressing room...
Josep Maria Bartomeu
A Barcelona member since 1974, Bartomeu joined the board of directors in 2010 as part of Sandro Rosell's triumphant presidential campaign. Bartomeu served as vice-president but took the top job in 2014 when Rosell resigned after an investigation was opened into Neymar's arrival from Santos the year before.
Barca won the treble at the end of Bartomeu's first full season in charge, making his re-election in 2015 something of a formality, but, crucially, his relationship with the club's players began to deteriorate the moment Neymar left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2017, as the Brazilian is so close with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
The pressure on Bartomeu has intensified since the turn of the year, though, for a number of reasons:
- Former coach Ernesto Valverde was sacked without any successor lined up beforehand and Bartomeu then suffered the ignominy of being turned down by Barca icons Ronald Koeman and Xavi, among others.
- The transfer window closed without a replacement brought in for the injured Suarez, forcing Barca to make an emergency signing in Martin Braithwaite, which did not go down well with the Dane's club, Leganes, or indeed the underwhelmed Blaugrana fans.
- In February, Cadena SER issued a report claiming the club had hired a PR company to use social media accounts to boost the profile of Bartomeu and the Barca board and, crucially, attack their perceived enemies, including Messi. Bartomeu admitted that Barca had employed I3 Ventures – who were tied to one of the social media accounts mentioned in Cadena SER's expose – to "monitor different areas of the club online" but insisted that the allegations that the company were tasked with discrediting anyone were "totally false". Nonetheless, SocialMediaGate or BarcaGate remains one of the key conflicts at the heart of the current boardroom battle.
- At the height of the financial crisis caused by the Covid-19 outbreak, Messi accused unnamed figures at the club of leaking details of the players' negotiations with the board over a proposed salary cut to the press with the aim of forcing them into doing something the captain insisted they had intended to do all along.
So, as things stand, a presidential election is due to be held in 2021. Having already been re-elected, Bartomeu is unable to run again but he is determined to see out the final year of his term, which could prove easier said than done.
Tellingly, six members of the Barca board resigned last week – Emili Rousaud, Enrique Tombas, Maria Teixidor, Silvio Elias, Josep Pont and Jordi Calsamiglia – because of their disillusionment with how the club was being run, citing SocialMediaGate as a key factor in their decision.
Two of those departures were particularly significant...
Having been appointed vice-president in January of this year, the founder of Factor Energia had been Bartomeu's preferred successor and, as a result, was given plenty of backing in the media. However, Rousaud has now caused chaos at Camp Nou by suggesting after the mass resignations that somebody at Barcelona has their "hand in the till".
The club issued a swift response, threatening legal action, but Rousaud has since doubled down, claiming that he can prove his allegations of corruption in a court of law, and is more than happy to do so.
Before resigning, Teixidor was widely regarded as the most important factor in the rapid and colossal growth of Barca's women's team, which arguably represents the biggest success story of Bartomeu's tenure. Consequently, the first female secretary in Barca's history has also been tipped to become their first female president.
Tellingly, when pressed on her prospects in an interview with Goal last September, Teixidor didn't rule out running in the next election: "I've always said that things go well when there are good people in important positions. With good colleagues, everything is always easier. So, we'll see what happens..."
Barcelona president between 2003 and 2010, Laporta is remembered for reinvigorating the club with the signing of Ronaldinho and then ushering in the most successful spell in their history with the appointment of Pep Guardiola as coach.
Laporta stood for re-election in 2015 but finished a distant second to Bartomeu. He has yet to confirm if he will stand again in 2021, given his presence on the ballot alongside Victor Font could split the Cruyffian vote, thus allowing Bartomeu's chosen successor to prevail.
However, Laporta is edging ever closer to declaring his candidacy, admitting on Friday: "I am very excited about the idea of coming back but I still have time to think about things. But we must start thinking about reversing the club's financial situation, which is so precarious.
"I have people I can trust around me and I'm excited about our potential project, because it's important to improve the image of the club, and build an exciting sporting project."
Rosell served as Laporta's vice-president of sports but resigned in 2005. The following year, he published a book criticising his former friend for the way in which he was running the club, arguing that Laporta had betrayed the vision they had for Barca during their successful election campaign.
Rosell ultimately succeed Laporta as president in July 2010, with more than 60 per cent of the vote. However, he resigned in 2014 after being accused of misappropriation of funds relating to the signing of Neymar. Rosell was subsequently jailed without bail as part of a money-laundering investigation related to the acquisition of television rights for Brazil matches but he was fully acquitted two years later.
As things stand, he has no official power at Camp Nou but, in reality, remains a hugely influential figure.
The grandson of Nicolau Casaus, who served under Josep Lluis Nunez as Barca's vice-president from 1978 until 2003, Cardoner now holds the same position at the club and is a close personal friend of Bartomeu's.
The founder of Bellver Assessorament i Gestio Empresarial, a business dedicated to business management and consultancy in finance, employment and law, and a good friend of Rosell's. Bellver was only added to the club's board of directors by Bartomeu in January. However, he has arguably benefited more than anyone from the recent spate of resignations, as they've only strengthened his position as club treasurer.
Perhaps best known for the infamous declaration "Neymar is 200% staying" at Barcelona, Mestre stepped down as vice-president in April of last year amid reports that he was unhappy with plans to fire sporting director Pep Segura.
Mestre has now resurfaced, admitting that he is not in the least bit surprised by the current upheaval: "It's a divided board. I saw it before and that's why I left. We didn't all eat from the same plate. That was clear... I saw different sectors within the board which are irreconcilable, for me. It's a serious thing."
Mestre also hit out at Rousaud for going public with his grievances: "Dirty clothes should be washed at home, if you have problems and start to divulge them, you aren't doing anyone a favour. Barca as an institution are not in crisis, but there are problems. As a Barca director you have to bear pressure, you have to take it on... Rousaud says that maybe Bartomeu is drunk on power but maybe it's the reverse and it's him who is drunk on power."
The first vice-president with which Bartomeu parted company. Faus, though, will be more familiar to Barca fans as the man Messi said had "no idea about football" during contract talks in 2013.
He was also, along with Rosell, one of the key figures in the Catalans' shirt sponsorship deal with Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), which prompted former presidential candidate Agusti Benedito to accuse Faus of a conflict of interests, given he had business dealings in Qatar at the time.
Despite his strong ties to Rosell, Faus resigned from his role as Barca vice-president before Bartomeu's re-election in 2015, citing personal reasons. He has remained silent ever since.
Having previously become the first female treasurer at Barcelona, Monje was named as Faus' successor after Bartomeu's re-election in 2015. However, she quit her role as vice-president of finance two years later and, just like Faus, attributed her decision to personal reasons. There were reports, though, that Monje, who had overseen impressive economic growth, found herself at odds with Bartomeu because of her more austere approach to spending.
The former vice-president of institutional relations stepped down in protest at the club's decision go ahead with a game against Las Palmas at Camp Nou on October 1, 2017 despite the violent clashes caused by the Spanish police's attempts to prevent Catalans from voting in a referendum on independence. Under pressure from the Spanish league to fulfil the fixture, Bartomeu agreed to play the match behind closed doors. Vilarrubi disagreed, though, and walked away.
While Bartomeu had been pushing Rousaud as his successor, Rosell was sceptical and instead favoured promoting Jordi Roche. So, while the successful entrepreneur and former president of the Catalan Football Federation was previously considered an outsider, Roche is now a legitimate contender in the next election.
The only person to have already confirmed their candidacy in the next election, Font believes that the club have lost the traditions and values bestowed upon Barcelona by the iconic Johan Cruyff. Hardly surprising, then, that he has strong ties to the Dutchman's most successful disciple, Pep Guardiola. However, Font is also close with the man many believe will be Barca's next coach, Xavi.
The best player in the world and a god in the eyes of Barcelona fans.
So, while Messi is not on the board and would also not publicly endorse any candidate given his reluctance to get caught up in boardroom politics, we do know that he wants a strong, high-profile president to attract strong, high-profile players.
A president in the making. Pique is still a regular at the heart of the Barcelona defence, but he appears destined for the top job at Camp Nou. He has long spoken of his desire to lead the club and appears to have both the sporting and business acumen required for the role.
Having studied at Harvard, he is already building something of a business empire, with interests in several sectors, including video games and construction, while he recently revamped tennis' Davis Cup.
A candidate in the 2015 election, Benedito finished third, with 7% of the vote. However, he has remained a high-profile figure due to his attacks on Bartomeu.
Indeed, he has twice launched votes of no confidence in the Barcelona president and, last year, a judge backed Benedito's complaint that the deadline set for the collection of signatures to support his first bid was brought forward by the club in order to reduce its chances of success.
A former board member under both Rosell and Bartomeu, Freixa ran in the 2015 election but claimed just 3.7% of the vote. However, he remains a close friend of Rosell's and it is rumoured that he could put himself forward for election again.
Additional reporting by Ignasi Oliva