Barcelona are in a mess at administrational level, and the position of club president Josep Maria Bartomeu is looking more and more untenable as the scandals pile up.
The most recent disaster at Camp Nou came last week, when six board directors simultaneously resigned, citing the poor management of the president in their letter of resignation made public through Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia. One of those who left the club was Emili Rousaud, the man who was originally chosen as Bartomeu’s successor, and who was only promoted to a position of vice presidency little over three months ago.
Discrepancies with board members is nothing new to this Barça presidency, with Bartomeu counting numerous outgoings and incomings as vice presidents, technical directors, and communications heads during his tenure. The amount of movement beneath Bartomeu is beginning to paint a picture of a president with a taste for autocracy, while also suggesting the problems lay with the president himself rather than the many vice presidents and directors that have come and gone under his leadership.
Directors resign en masse
The latest move, these six resignations in bulk, came just days after Bartomeu asked four of those directors, two of whom were vice presidents, to resign, hoping to fill his board only with people loyal to him.
The president doesn’t have the power to outright sack them, so the normal protocol is to ask for their resignations, but behind his back the directors recruited others to walk away from the club with them in a show of defiance against Bartomeu. At this point, the directors have indicated that further board resignations are not off the table.
On Friday morning, following the en masse resignations, Rousaud made further explosive headlines by giving an interview with Catalan radio station RAC1, claiming that “somebody had their hand in the till,” insinuating direct financial corruption among club hierarchy. Barcelona have since confirmed they will be taking legal action against Rousaud.
However, Rousaud has been left standing somewhat alone on this front, with Jordi Calsamiglia and Maria Teixidor, two of the six directors who stepped down, both distancing themselves from the mentions of corruption. “Now is not the time to make public accusations,” Calsamiglia wrote in a statement.
Social media bots scandal
The cause of this breakup is multifaceted, but for Rousaud it largely stems from the handling of another recent scandal. In February, it emerged that the club paid a public relations company, I3 Ventures, to create fake social media accounts with the aim of spreading negative stories about some players including Lionel Messi, some past legends, and previous presidents, while also posting positive messages about the current president Bartomeu and his management of the club.
Furthermore, it came to light that Barcelona paid this company in an intentionally divided manner, meaning each payment was below the threshold amount of money that needed to be run by the board for approval. The club have since cut ties with this company, and have launched an investigation into the matter, with Bartomeu claiming total ignorance to the details. Naturally, the players have been left at odds over this truly bizarre story.
Coronavirus pay cuts
As the coronavirus crisis has put a halt to all football for the foreseeable future, businesses in Spain – including football clubs – have the option of signing up to a government temporary layoff scheme which sees the national administration covering 70% of worker’s wages up to €1.1k.
The club announced on March 27 that they were going to apply such a move, leaking to the press that negotiations with players over voluntary pay cuts had broken down. However, three days later, the players implicitly put the sword to Bartomeu by releasing a joint statement in which they expressed their ‘surprise that inside the club there would be people who want to pressure [the players] into doing something we were always clear we wanted to do,’ implicitly referring to the leaks that the ‘captains’ of the club rejected pay cuts.
To put the boot into the president, the players announced they were accepting, voluntarily, the 70% pay cut, and on top of that, take the necessary steps to ensure that the rest of the ordinary staff of the club, the kit men, groundskeeper, and shop assistants etc., kept earning 100% of their salary during this time of public emergency, implying FC Barcelona may not have done so.
Poor handling of Valverde’s sacking
January’s scandal surrounded the firing of boss Ernesto Valverde, and more particularly, the handling of the Coach’s sacking. There are some legitimate arguments to be made for Valverde’s dismissal, but his cool personality was able to masterfully calm tensions when needed. Such skills would be equally useful on Casino777 alongside that of football management.
When Valverde was sacked he left the Camp Nou for the last time with a wide grin on his face, possibly one of relief, and his replacement was not immediately known to either the public nor the decision makers.
The public courting of Xavi Hernández while the club was in Saudi Arabia for the Spanish Super Cup was seen as a particularly disrespectful move on behalf of the club hierarchy. Club legend Xavi rejected the offer to take over as Barcelona manager, as he is understood to be linked as potential manager with the future presidency candidacy of Victor Font the next time there are elections.
After being rejected by other candidates, Barcelona were publicly humiliated, and in the end it was Quique Setién who was chosen as the man to take over, who revealed in his presentation that he was surprised to be called and offered the job while strolling through his tiny village in the north of Spain.
His surprise showed the lack of communication between the club and future manager prior to his appointment, proving Valverde was sacked with no succession plan in place; the club were willingly walking into the darkness. Setién plays football in ‘the Barcelona way’, a complete devotee to the methods of Cruyff, but his biggest job in the game to date has been a two-season stint at Real Betis, and even that was a huge step up from where he had been.
Shortly after Valverde’s dismissal, Eric Abidal, the former Barcelona full back and current Bartomeu sporting director, gave an ill-advised interview with Catalan sports daily Diario Sport. In it, he essentially threw the players in front of the bus, saying they were no longer interested in playing for the manager. “Lots of players were not satisfied [with Valverde] and nor did they work a lot,” he claimed.
Messi reacted furiously and almost immediately. “Everyone has to be responsible for his acts and take responsibility for their own decisions,” Messi wrote on Instagram. “The players [are responsible for] what happens on the pitch,” he admitted, before dressing Abidal down: “The people in the sporting directorate should also assume their responsibility and above all take ownership of the decisions they make. Finally, I think that when players are talked about, names should be given because, if not, we are all being dirtied and it feeds comments that are made and are not true.”
Naturally, Messi holds a lot of power among fans, as arguably the best player in the world. When he lashes out at those in the board above him, fans take notice.
All of these missteps, scandals, and crises could almost be excusable, in the most unromantic of views, if the club were at least performing well financially. The club has the highest wage bill among any sporting organization in the world. Bartomeu took over the financial duties of the departed vice president Susana Monje in 2016 and negotiated player contracts under the presidency.
At this point, players found few barriers between themselves and the president’s office when they demanded pay rises, and it only took vague threats of leaving the club for them to secure the higher salaries they wanted.
The accounts for the 2017/18 season showed player wages rising 33% in around a year. For the purchase of Antoine Griezmann in the summer of 2019, Barcelona had to borrow the full €120m to activate the player’s release clause. Footballing intelligence among club hierarchy has been shown up once again by the recent reports that the club want to get rid of the French playmaker this summer.
Last summer the club wanted to sell several other players to fill their financial gap and are said to be in need of making over €120m more in order to balance the books. Decision makers publicly flouted high-earning midfielder Ivan Rakitic, and a relatively poor season this year, likely in part due to the treatment received from the club, will only serve to diminish his value and lower the price the club will receive for him if they manage to find a buyer next transfer window.
Another headache they may face this summer is the return of Philippe Coutinho from his loan spell at Bayern Munich, as the Bavarian giants don’t seem to be interested in making his temporary stay permanent. Chelsea are rumoured to be interested, but the chances of Barça recuperating what they paid Liverpool for the Brazilian are slim. The Catalan giants need to sell, and the world of football knows this.
Regardless, Josep Maria Bartomeu is facing mounting criticism and opposition, for many varying reasons. Elections to name the next president of the club are coming in 2021 at the latest, but at the current rate, earlier elections couldn’t be ruled out.