La Liga Lowdown
Barça Elections: The Final Countdown
Written by Román de Arquer
There’s less than a week to go until 7th March when FC Barcelona members will finally get the chance to vote for their new president.
For these elections, 110,289 ‘socis’ of the approximately 144,000 that endorse the club will be allowed to take part. It remains to be seen how many will actually exercise their right to vote given the current pandemic and that in the recent local elections in Catalonia only 53.56% of the population voted, which is the lowest figure recorded up to date.
But to try and encourage more members to participate, for the first time ever the club has introduced multiple voting points around Catalonia, including one in Andorra, and it has also allowed ‘socis’ to vote by mail. A total of 22,811 members requested to vote in this way and had until 26th February to do so. This means that while you're reading this, a decent number of Barça fans have already made their final decision.
The only ex-candidate to have been Barcelona president before is still the favourite to win the 2021 elections.
There aren’t many reliable sources out there to confirm this trend, but based on the signatures handed in by each candidate and polls carried out by local newspaper ‘El Mundo Deportivo’ in recent months, he seems to have a comfortable advantage.
This lead may be the exact reason why he decided to take part in only three of the eight debates which were originally suggested. One of them was eventually cancelled and the other four saw Toni Freixa and Víctor Font joined by someone else representing Laporta, except the first one in which the other two candidates were left on their own.
Some might wonder why so many debates were needed, but the main concern is that Laporta only agreed to appear in the last three that were scheduled from 28th February onwards, after the 20,000+ mail-in ballots had to be handed in. Because once a ‘soci’ has requested to vote by mail he is not allowed to do so in person, even if he hasn’t handed in his ballot.
It’s therefore been interpreted that his strategy is to expose himself as little as possible, so as not to risk surrendering his current advantage in these elections.
Along the same lines, many have criticised the fact that Laporta waited until 25th February to reveal his sporting vision for the club, also giving very little time for ‘socis’ to compare and contrast ideas, and ultimately make up their minds.
However, a lot of recognisable faces showed up in that presentation such as Victor Valdés, José Ramón Alexanco, Mateu Alemany and Albert Benaiges who will likely be involved in the club if Laporta wins, even though he didn’t specify what roles they’d have “out of respect for the professionals who are working at the club”. That’s possibly why he has insisted on supporting Ronald Koeman, for now, despite the mixed feelings displayed by the Barcelona fan base towards him.
Other ex-Barça players such as Samuel Eto’o, Deco and Rafa Márquez also expressed their support in a video that was played during the event. It was a blast from the past to remind ‘culers’ what Laporta had achieved and to convince them that he can do it once again.
Experience is his strongest weapon and he’s using it smartly this time, in contrast to 2015 when he was too overconfident and got blown away by Josep Maria Bartomeu’s ‘triplete’.
Unlike Laporta, Freixa is seen as the candidate with fewer options of governing the club for the following six years, although he always remains optimistic.
In fact, it’s become a trend to see him lead many Twitter polls created by local Catalan media to get a general perception of who Barça fans prefer as the new president. There’s a strong theory that he’s making use of bots to prevail in these polls which usually see Laporta lead with a large margin at first, but then mysteriously shift in Freixa’s favour before the voting period closes.
Bots aside, Freixa claims to be the only independent candidate with no political influence, and he’s also the only one who isn’t completely displeased with how the previous board handled things. That might have to do with the fact that he was a member of that board until 2015…
Partly because of this, many insist on singling out Toni Freixa as the ‘continuist’ candidate, associating his way of thinking to that of Josep Lluís Núñez, Sandro Rosell or Bartomeu himself, which are all known as “Nuñistas”, as opposed to “Cruyffistas” like Laporta or Víctor Font. Freixa proudly claims to represent both ideals, even though he doesn’t see the need for these sorts of labels and doesn’t consider himself Bartomeu’s natural successor.
As far as Barça’s current crisis is concerned, in his opinion it’s mainly due to poor sporting management as well as the global pandemic, and he believes the best antidote is to reduce spending and for Barça to return to winning ways under Lluís Carreras, who is his chosen man to be the club’s director of football.
Freixa also revealed recently that he’s in talks with two top players, a defender and a striker, who will land in Barcelona if he finally becomes president. If you’re asking yourself where the money will come from, Freixa has explained that there’s an offer of around 250 million euros to purchase 49% of Barça Corporate, a strategic business project set in motion by Bartomeu, which could help relieve some of the club’s debt. Although this might seem as a bit of a desperate move in hopes of giving him a final push before the elections, only time will tell if it can get him closer to his dream of becoming president.
As kids, we’re told to get our homework done on time and to always come well prepared for an exam, but those instructions don’t seem to be hitting the mark for Víctor Font.
His seven years of preparation and the impressive line-up he’s put together for these elections hasn’t managed to overshadow Laporta’s magnetism and past triumphs. In fact, his hard work has proved to be a double-edged sword, as the other candidates have often used it against him, criticising any change or unexpected turn to his original plan.
But Font’s main mistake was probably to undermine Laporta’s chances, having had that poor campaign in 2015. Barcelona has now hit an all-time low with Bartomeu and the fans want to cling on to those wonderful moments the club lived with Laporta, not so long ago.
So given the threat, Font decided to take the risk of sharing many names from his project, including some that still can’t be ratified due to their current working relationships. This has helped attract many supporters, but also a big number of detractors who see Font as a threat to their favourite candidates.
The biggest name he’s brought up, which has become a hot topic during these elections, is undoubtedly Xavi Hernández. The Barça legend’s current ties to Al-Sadd and his decision to avoid the crossfire between candidates has put Font in a delicate position and made it harder to convince sceptics that he’s been working with Xavi to build an exciting project for Barça’s future.
As a matter of fact, in recent debates Font has felt the pressure from Freixa and Laporta, forcing him to mark his territory with strong statements: “If anyone can find a statement from Xavi denying all I’ve said about him, then I’ll withdraw from the presidential elections”.
But he hasn’t held back either in the debates, going on the offensive when it came to reminding ‘culers’ constantly that Laporta’s methodology won’t likely be as effective 11 years later, and insisting that his vision of the future is more modern and prepared to get the club out of its delicate financial situation. That said, the truth is that both Font and Laporta share many similarities in their ideology as opposed to Freixa.
Font now faces a critical moment in this challenge and will need to hope that he can attract a good bunch of Laporta supporters, and that a very large amount of the 25,000+ ‘socis’ that voted for Bartomeu in 2015, now decide to trust him with the club.
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