A cloud of uncertainty hangs over Barcelona this morning after yesterday’s surprise resignation from Sandro Rosell. The 49-year-old Rosell blamed threats against his family and pressure caused by the ‘false accusation’ over irregularities in the signing of Neymar Jr for his decision and named vice-president Josep Maria Bartomeu as the new Barça president. There was also a surprise when it was announced that Bartomeu would complete the mandate until June 2016 as it had been previously expected that new elections would be called for this summer.
The fact that Rosell gave two unrelated reasons for his departure combined with his insistence of no improper behaviour leaves many doubts as to why he decided to go, whether he has made the right decision and whether he has done anything wrong. The death threats against Rosell and his family are despicable but the timing of the announcement clearly seems to indicate that Rosell’s decision has more to do with Judge Pablo Ruz’s acceptance on Wednesday that there is a case to investigate.
The problems started for Rosell when a small group led by club member Jordi Cases sent a fax to the club asking for an explanation as to know under what concept Barça had paid €40 million to the company of Neymar’s father N&N. Cases has stated that “if they had told me there was no concept but otherwise Neymar wouldn’t have come to Barça, it would have been enough for me”. However, Rosell chose to ignore the fax. Cases’s group, now calling itself Go Barça was then involved in the attempt to bring a vote of no-confidence against Rosell over the Qatar Airways sponsorship deal but Rosell reacted by raising the number of signatures needed from 5% to 15% of the membership.
The questions over the Neymar transfer remained unanswered so Cases began his own investigation which led to him presenting a case against Rosell last month. Rosell continued to deny any wrongdoing, saying that some things were confidential, but the pressure increased earlier this week when El Mundo published a story stating that the Neymar transfer had really cost €95 million and not €57 million as Barça have always claimed. Rosell continued to stand firm on Monday, publicly asking the Judge to call him to declare but refusing to answer when the press bombarded him with questions over the case. However, Judge Ruz’s decision on Wednesday to open the case seems to have led to Rosell’s about-turn.
It should be stated that nobody has accused Rosell of financially benefitting on a personal level. The charge against him would be lying over the details in the contract which may have served the club in some way. The problem seems to be these complicated deals involving players whose rights are shared between different clubs or agencies. It could well be that Rosell was trying to act in the best interest of Barça and that any corruption in the deal came from the other side of the deal. Either way, Rosell got himself into a mess with this transfer and he has handled the accusations against him badly. The threats against his family reveal a sorry side to how far some people will go in the power battle for the running of a football club, but bringing the matter out now is clearly just a cover for the real reasons for Rosell’s resignation, and some might go as far as to say he has been behaving like a guilty man.
So what now for the future? Rosell’s board remain with Bartomeu at the helm, and the decision not to call elections may well have been at attempt by the board to show strength while maintaining the front of no-wrongdoing. Unfortunately, the case seems unlikely to disappear. Cases has brought his case against Rosell and not against the club but he could easily present a new case now against Bartomeu who I understand also signed some of the contracts for the Neymar deal along with Rosell. Whether or not there could be a case against Bartomeu, the new unelected president is sure to come under pressure from opposing factions. This is where the instability could start to affect the team if there are protests against the board during home matches. The referendum called for April 6 to decide on the Camp Nou project is still to go ahead but there is a possibility that it could become a referendum on something quite different. Bartomeu should announce new presidential elections for the summer as the best way of putting to rest any in-fighting, at least until the season has finished.
While this whole business is worrying for the instability created, there is a certain beauty to the idea that one ordinary club member can bring down a president. I’m sure there are fans of many other clubs who would love to have this possibility. Time will tell how Rosell is remembered, it is true that the club has had continued success under his leadership, and -if the figures are to be believed – the club’s debt has been reduced. However, he began his reign promising transparency and he has fallen for hiding information. The failure to take questions from the press after yesterday’s announcement was the final demonstration of the lack of transparency.
When Rosell replaced Laporta in 2010 it was his business savvy, which contrasted to Laporta’s political nous, that won him more than 60% of the vote. I always expected that his desire to take decisions on a sporting level would be his main problem: how ironic that it has been the business dealings in the end that have brought the businessman down.
Bartomeu will give another press conference where he will take questions at 5 pm this afternoon. It’s going to be interesting to hear what he has to say.