La Liga Lowdown
Barcelona Elections: Who Will Lead The Revolution?
Written by Román de Arquer
The battle has begun. Nine ‘socis’ have the ambition to sit on the F.C. Barcelona throne and lead the club for the upcoming six years.
Although these are difficult times. The club’s future is at stake after a mix of poor management by Josep María Bartomeu and the current pandemic, both leading Barça into a critical economic situation.
As a matter of fact, Jordi Roche and Joan Rosell, two well-known Catalan businessmen who were interested in running, opted out of the race due to the economic adversity the club is facing.
But that hasn’t scared away the other nine pre-candidates: Agustí Benedito, Jordi Farré, Lluís Fernàndez Alà, Víctor Font, Toni Freixa, Joan Laporta, Pere Riera, Emili Rousaud and Xavi Vilajoana.
The elections were officially called on 16th December, which means that between 23rd December and 11th January, the pre-candidates will have around three weeks to collect a minimum of 2,257 signatures supporting their project. They will also have to present a financial guarantee of around 120 million euros to formally become a presidential candidate for FC Barcelona.
Those who make the cut will then kick off the election campaign between 15th and 22nd January.
Finally, on 24th January election day will be held, with 10 voting locations. One in Andorra and nine all over Spain: Barcelona, Tarragona, Tortosa, Lleida, Girona, Madrid, Sevilla, Valencia and Palma de Mallorca.
Shortly after, the new president will be announced. Whoever is “fortunate” enough to win the elections will have a gargantuan task at hand.
Carles Tusquets, the club’s current caretaker, sums it up best: “This job comes with tremendous media pressure, they don’t let me breathe. I still struggle to understand how there are so many pre-candidates, they don’t know what’s coming”.
Let’s take a closer look at each pre-candidate, to get to know them better and understand what they have to offer. Here they are, in alphabetical order by surname.
Full name: Agustí Benedito Benet
Date of birth: 22/06/1964 (54 years old)
Past elections: 2010, 2015
Slogan: Ara Barça, Ara Benedito (Now Barça, Now Benedito)
Agustí Benedito is one of the most veteran pre-candidates in these elections, aiming for his third consecutive run after gathering enough signatures in the two previous elections, but not getting enough votes to win, or even come close.
In 2010 he was second with 8,044 votes, behind the winner Sandro Rosell who achieved the staggering number of 35,021 votes.
He tried his luck again in 2015 but ultimately got a poorer result with the support of 3,386 ‘socis’, falling behind Josep María Bartomeu and Joan Laporta.
One of Benedito’s main traits is that he doesn’t tend to mince his words when speaking in public or to the media, always being very clear and direct. When he doesn’t like something, he won’t hesitate to let others know.
One instance was in 2017 when he led a vote of no-confidence directed towards Bartomeu with a particular focus on the institutional crisis he claimed the club was going through, after Bartomeu was accused of being involved in Neymar’s dodgy signing deal in 2013. He also considered Rosell's imprisonment at the time, and the club's deals with Qatar, to be damaging Barça’s reputation.
In the end, he managed to collect 12,504 signatures out of the 16,570 which were required to take the process a step further. Even though he later sued the club for not giving him more days to carry out the vote of no-confidence and won, the judges' decision came two years too late.
However, he didn’t support this year’s vote of no-confidence as he believed that the economic responsibilities would shift onto the newly-elected president, exempting Bartomeu and his board from taking the blame. Still, for now, he has been the only pre-candidate to clearly state that he would thoroughly review Bartomeu’s economic activities at the club and hold him liable, one way or another.
That said, Benedito himself knows what it’s like to lose credibility. All eyes were on him when in 2015 he announced a very dubious sponsorship, were he to win the elections back then. The brand was ‘Flight Without Wings’, an energy drink very similar to Red Bull (that led to a legal dispute), which never even launched on to the market. According to Benedito, the brand was highly dependent on the Barcelona deal for investors to come on board, so his defeat was supposedly defining for this company's future.
For the upcoming elections he still hasn’t revealed any sponsorship deal, but he’s already expressed some firm opinions such as his interest in Sevilla’s Monchi or his disagreement with the ‘Espai Barça’; a project that Bartomeu brought to the table and which has been seriously delayed. This scheme intends to completely renovate the Camp Nou and its surrounding areas, including the neighbouring Palau Blaugrana where Barça’s basketball team plays. But with the club's economic future at stake, Benedito doesn’t consider it doable and would like to run it by the ‘socis’ once again.
He also believes that Neymar’s return is a no-go and has an interesting theory that Bartomeu pushed him out, based on two assumptions: his release clause barely went up after renewing his contract in 2016 (from €190m to €200m in 2016, to €222m in 2017) and Barça’s accounts for the 16/17 season provided an €18m profit, which means that the board probably had PSG’s €222m in mind to cover the losses.
Full name: Jordi Farré Muñoz
Date of birth: 20/11/1975 (45 years old)
Past elections: 2015
Slogan: La Gran Remuntada (The Great Comeback)
After failing to collect enough signatures to officially become a candidate in 2015, Farré will attempt this objective once again.
This time he will likely have a better chance after being one of the main voices behind the vote of no-confidence against Bartomeu. He was the man who got the process started.
Farré then joined forces with eight other groups of Barça members and two pre-candidates (Víctor Font and Lluís Fernàndez Alà), to ultimately achieve what seemed an impossible task.
But his relationship with the other groups was never good, and still isn’t. It was said he mainly did it to be seen as a leader and to have presence in the media.
It was also revealed that he took advantage of the vote of no-confidence to collect personal data from Barça fans with a membership, possibly to help with his future aspirations of becoming a candidate. This caused certain controversy but was later disregarded.
It seems pretty clear that he’ll do whatever it takes to get the required signatures to make it through to the final round. During the presentation of his team for the elections he promised free pizzas and Barça tattoos (yes, actual tattoos) to those culés willing to support him with a signature, during a limited number of days.
He’s also one of the pre-candidates interested in bringing Neymar back, and has even revealed that he’s been in touch with the Brazilian player.
The big question is how would Barça afford him given the current situation. Farré explained in an interview to AS that by refinancing Barça’s current debt into long-term debt the club would be capable of signing Neymar and continuing with the ‘Espai Barça’ project. As a matter of fact, he thinks that he’d get the Brazilian to come back at a relatively low fee if he hands in a transfer request to PSG.
Another interesting proposition he has is for Catalonia to be Barça’s main shirt sponsor. He believes it would be a great way to promote the region and to give it international exposure.
Overall, Farré is a controversial and apparently confident pre-candidate who identifies with the younger Laporta, believing he can emulate those better years.
Full name: Lluís Fernàndez Alà
Date of Birth: 12/19/1967 (53 years old)
Past elections: - N/A
Slogan: Passió, Seny i Planter (Passion, Wisdom and Youth System)
Lluís Fernàndez Alà is one of the few candidates who doesn’t seem to have any background that links him to FC Barcelona’s highest circles. His seat at the Camp Nou is in the ‘Gol Nord’ section, behind one of the goals and far from the grandstand where the VIPs sit.
That’s why he claims to be a completely independent candidate, with no ties or interests, who simply wants what’s best for the club. For that reason, he publicly supported the vote of no-confidence against Bartomeu.
However, he does have political ties with a few parties, such as ‘Demòcrates per Catalunya’ (Democrats for Catalonia) which is in favour of Catalonia’s independence. He was their candidate to become the mayor of Sant Cugat, a town in the outskirts of Barcelona, where he currently resides.
One of the main objectives he and his team have is to make ‘La Masia’ a centerpiece of Barça’s present and future, rejecting unnecessary and expensive signings such as Neymar.
The idea is to achieve this by bringing back Albert Benaiges, who was a very successful coach and coordinator at ‘La Masia’ between 1990-2003, and again from 2005-2011. Fernàndez Alà claims Benaiges has an agreement with him to join his team if he wins the elections, although the former Barça co-ordinator has put himself on the market and said he’d be willing to join any candidate that wins the elections.
He’s also stated that he would give Koeman the chance to succeed, but that his ideal coach is Francisco Javier García-Pimienta, who is now in charge of Barça B. He believes he could likely become the new Pep Guardiola for the club.
Furthermore, he insists on wanting to treat the ‘socis’ with a lot more respect, allowing them to take part in the important decisions that involve the club.
The ‘Espai Barça’ is also necessary in his opinion, especially the need to renovate the Camp Nou, but he’s not very fond of the financial deal Bartomeu announced with Goldman Sachs. As a matter of fact, he’s even suggested financing the ‘Espai Barça’ with microcredit loans from the ‘socis’, who would be the ones to benefit from the deal in the long term, rather than an external company.
He’s also been working on a “COVID-free” plan, with a well-known Catalan epidemiologist called Oriol Mitjà, which he will be presenting to Spanish and international federations in order to start bringing back the fans to the Camp Nou. The objective is to have around 25,000 culés watching the games, on site, by March.
It won’t be easy for Fernàndez Alà to make the first cut, but he is one of the few candidates with nothing to lose and no ties to any previous boards, which could play in his favour.
Full name: Víctor Font Manté
Date of Birth: 12/08/1972 (48 years old)
Past elections: - N/A
Slogan: Sí al Futur (Yes to the Future)
Víctor Font has earned his status as one of the favourites for the upcoming elections, after working on this project since 2013.
Originally, his intention was to take part in the 2016 elections which were finally advanced to 2015. Instead he decided not to rush things and waited patiently.
He had however already built up some experience back in 2010 when he joined Marc Ingla’s team together with Ferran Soriano, the current chief executive officer at Manchester City. Font was going to oversee the economic side of things, were they to win. But in the end they only managed a third position, behind Laporta and Benedito.
At the moment he’s one of the pre-candidates to have revealed more names from his team, by presenting very prestigious personalities such as Ramon Cugat, a well-known traumatologist who has treated the likes of David Villa, Andrés Iniesta and Fernando Torres, Toni Nadal who coached Rafa Nadal for many years and Antoni Basses, a respected Catalan journalist.
But it’s not just the men. He’s also proudly announced that his board will include numerous women, such as Joana Barbany and María Teresa Andreu. In fact, Font guaranteed that no Barça board has ever had as many women in the history of the club as he’s proposing, if he becomes president.
Then, of course, there’s Xavi Hernández who would lead the team as a coach or general manager. Font has been playing the Xavi card repeatedly, although the truth is the former Barça player would probably end up sitting in the home dugout anyway sooner or later, even if Font isn’t elected president. But he holds the advantage of having talked to Xavi on various occasions over the years to build a project according to his standards and needs.
Font firmly believes that Barça needs to implement electronic voting and has been fighting for its approval for a long time. It would be a way of modernising the club and easing the process, especially in these difficult times with the current pandemic. But there are a lot of sceptics who question how secure and reliable this system can be.
Other proposals that Font has brought to the table are bringing back UNICEF as the main sponsorship in the long term, changing the need to present such a high financial guarantee to become a candidate, and reducing the presidential term from 6 to 4 years.
Furthermore, he rejects the possibility of Neymar returning after taking the club to court, but wants to motivate Messi to stay with a winning project and tie him to the club in the long term, even after he retires as a player.
Font has been very active on social media and open to all sorts of interviews for quite a while, which has helped promote his persona and project. But the question is whether his message has gotten through to the older Barça ‘socis’, as 40,000 of them are over 60 years old and might not be that interested in social media.
Full name: Antoni Freixa Martí
Date of Birth: 08/10/1968 (52 years old)
Past elections: 2015
Slogan: Fidels al Barça (Loyal to Barça)
Who hasn’t heard of Toni Freixa? He used to be part of Laporta’s board, then Rosell’s board, and even Bartomeu’s board. He also tends to make appearances on Spanish and Catalan radio or TV shows, to talk about his true love: FC Barcelona.
He took part in the 2015 elections, becoming one of the four official candidates, but was the least supported with just 3.7% of votes in his favour.
Despite that, some see him as one of the “continuist candidates” due to his connection to Sandro Rosell and Bartomeu, his rejection of support for the vote of no-confidence, and his fall-out with Laporta, even though both have stated that their relationship is now at peace.
Another previous episode that has linked Freixa to the continuist tag is when Johan Cruyff resigned as honorary president of the club, shortly after Rosell won the 2010 elections. Many considered the new board had stripped the Barça legend from his title, although Freixa, who was the board’s spokesman at the time, always defended their stance by explaining that they never forced Cruyff to give up his title. They wanted the ‘socis’ to decide on it because the honorary president title was not regarded in the club’s bylaws and had been conceded unilaterally by Laporta and his board. It’s an incident which didn’t do Freixa any favours and tarnished his reputation.
But he insists he has no ties to Bartomeu or Rosell, and he just wants to put his ideas and project on the table. For that reason he was one of the first candidates to release part of his programme, with a special focus on the social dimension of the club which involves the ‘socis’. He wants them to be more involved in decision-making, with more fan presence in the stadium to the detriment of tourists, and by rewarding those who are loyal to the club.
In terms of the football, his bet is clearly on ‘La Masia’ which should provide enough talent to combine with a few superstars. Yet, speaking of superstars, he’s insisted that he does not want to talk about Messi during the campaign, and rather let him be. The same goes for politics, which have no place in football according to him.
But he has spoken of Ronald Koeman and has guaranteed he would finish his contract at the club under his presidency, as he considers that a manager needs time to work and develop his ideas.
Full name: Joan Laporta Estruch
Date of Birth: 29/06/1962 (58 years old)
Past elections: 2003, 2015
Slogan: Estimem el Barça (We Love Barça)
Joan Laporta is back and intends to sit on Barça’s throne once again. He is the oldest candidate and definitely the most experienced. He took the club to its peak during his years as president between 2003 and 2010 and for that reason he is considered the favourite to win the elections.
It also helps that he has a good relationship with Leo Messi. The Argentinian was very disappointed that Bartomeu wasn’t a man of his word, so he would definitely be more tempted to stay with a president he knows and who mostly delivered his promises when they coincided at the club.
The question is which Laporta to expect for these elections, after two very opposite experiences in 2003 and 2015. During his first challenge he was a new and rejuvenating candidate with a very clear and strong message, as well as a very desirable promise: David Beckham. Although everyone knows how that went… it worked out even better.
But this time it will be much harder to guarantee a player keeping in mind the club’s financial situation. It’s said Laporta gets on well with Mino Raiola, Erling Haaland’s agent, but his price tag would require a big investment and at the moment Laporta doesn’t want to talk about signings.
The 2015 elections, on the other hand, saw an overconfident and unprepared Laporta who was blown away by Bartomeu. He even admitted recently that it had been a last-minute decision, and that’s why this time he’s changed his road map.
In his first public appearance for the 2021 elections, Laporta was a lot calmer and more composed, with a moderate tone. It seems like he’s betting on a different approach this time to attract a wider audience. His strong political views, wild celebrations and aggressive speeches didn’t bode well with a segment of the ‘socis’, particularly the ‘penyes’.
It was said that these ‘penyes’ were key in Bartomeu’s win in 2015, with over 1,200 spread out around the world, formed by more than 150,000 ‘penyistes’, although only around 10% of them are members of the club with a right to vote. It might seem like a small number, but candidates are aware of how important they are to the club, due to their loyal involvement and influence.
Now Laporta wants to unite all the Barcelona fanbase in these difficult times, even saying at first that he would likely not pursue Bartomeu to respond to the club’s economic situation. He did later change his mind and mentioned potentially undertaking due diligence.
But Laporta will always be Laporta, with his characteristic cockiness, as we saw recently when a massive banner was revealed on a building very near to the Santiago Bernabéu stadium which said: “Looking forward to seeing you again”.
Not much more has been revealed on his project because he intends to follow the same ideology he applied when he was president, and which many fans would love to see work again.
This time however he won’t have Johan Cruyff by his side to guide him in challenging circumstances, like when he nudged him to pick Pep Guardiola over José Mourinho to become the club's coach.
Full name: Pere Riera i Paul
Date of Birth: 15/07/1966 (54 years old)
Past elections: - N/A
Slogan: Transparència i Joc Net (Transparency and Fair Play)
Pere Riera is the most mysterious pre-candidate out of the nine. Nobody knows much about who he is, where he comes from, or why he’s decided to take part in these elections.
He does have a football background, having played in lower divisions during his youth such as Blanes and other local teams in Barcelona like Júpiter and Atlètic Poblenou. He also claims to know the club quite well as he’s been going to the Camp Nou since he was a boy, and one of his sons played in Barça’s youth system.
That’s one of the reasons he wants to base his project in ‘La Masia’; an approach many candidates are taking for these elections.
Riera explained in the few interviews he’s had that his decision to run for president came after a group of close friends and relatives encouraged him to take the step, and to represent the ideas and changes wanted by a number of ‘socis’.
Similarly to Farré, Riera believes that changing Barça’s debt financing to the long-term would be a necessary step in restructuring the club's economy. He also explained that the club needs to trust Koeman and give him time, so the team can rediscover its confidence and play good football, and always developing the young talent at the club.
Another interesting piece of information he has revealed is that he’s in talks with a shirt sponsor that would bring in 250 million euros to the club in four years. It’s a very impressive effort, if true.
If truth be told, he hasn’t been very clear on whether he’d have access to the financial back-up needed to hand in to the club with the required signatures, to officially become a candidate. All he has said is that a bunch of Catalan businesses were willing to help him out if he got the minimum support from the ‘socis’ to make the cut.
Riera has also suffered his first setback, too - Jaume Rius Solé, one of the people in charge of his communication strategy, announced on Twitter he was dropping out of their team. But that is a small challenge compared to what it will take for him to gather over 2,000 signatures during a global pandemic.
Full name: Emili Rousaud Parés
Date of Birth: 27/04/1966 (54 years old)
Past elections: -
Slogan: Els Millors, al Barça! (The Best, at Barça!)
Emili Rousaud knows the club inside out, basically because he was a member of Bartomeu’s board from 2015, even becoming the vice-president in early January 2020. But he only lasted about three months in that prestigious position after resigning in April.
Originally, Rousaud was Bartomeu’s “chosen one” for the upcoming elections, or in other words, the continuist candidate. But this was disrupted after the controversial ‘Barçagate’ which drove Rousaud and five other members of the board to leave the club, as their views on the topic deferred to the one’s Bartomeu had.
Since then he’s tried to set himself apart from what he used to represent, but it won’t be easy given the ties his current team has to… Sandro Rosell. In Catalonia a lot of people are wondering who the Barça ex-president is supporting, as he still has an important influence over the club. Despite not speaking up (at the moment), it seems pretty clear.
Interprofit is the communication agency working with Rousaud for these elections, the same company that promoted Rosell’s book, ‘Un Fuerte Abrazo’, published on 28th May 2020. That may not seem the strongest of connections until you look into who is among Interprofits investors. You guessed it, Sandro Rosell.
A more obvious association can be found in the man selected by Rousaud to be his campaign manager: Jaume López. He had the same role with Rosell during the 2010 elections, together with Jaume Masferrer, both as his campaign managers. Add to that, Masferrer was Bartomeu’s advisor during his presidency and one of the main culprits of ‘Barçagate’.
Last but not least, Albert Agustí, who is known to be a close friend of Rosell, both having worked in sports-related projects, is expected to be on Rousaud’s team. The paper trail seems pretty clear...
But Rousaud has no interest in revealing those connections for now, so he’s focusing on his ability to successfully lead a business as one of his strengths. He’s the owner of a very large company called ‘Factorenergía’ that employs around 400 people and has an income of around 400 million euros, making him the most successful pre-candidate in terms of business management. That experience and know-how is what he wants to bring to the table, which is why he’s chosen ‘Els Millors, al Barça!’ has his slogan.
He also believes Neymar is one of the best, so he is willing to bring him back, but with one condition: that he withdraws any pending lawsuit against the club. Rousaud is convinced Neymar wants to come back to Barcelona and has even said his team have been in touch with people close to the Brazilian superstar.
On the same note, Rousaud has also revealed that he has an agreement with who he says is the best sports director in football. No names have been given so far, but the strongest rumours point to Borussia Dortmund’s Michael Zorc and Sevilla’s Monchi. He hasn’t been very clear on whether he’d keep Koeman or not, but he’s already put pressure on him by saying he’s also got an agreement with the manager of one of Europe’s top clubs.
Regarding Messi, Rousaud has suggested renaming the Camp Nou in his honour to ‘Camp Nou Leo Messi’ if approved by the ‘socis’. But for the Argentinian to continue at the club he has said it would require a significant pay cut, given the delicate financial situation.
Rousaud definitely has a strong economic background and powerful connections, but his role in Bartomeu’s sinking ship will keep many ‘socis’ away.
Full name: Xavier Vilajoana Eduardo
Date of Birth: 02/01/1973 (47 years old)
Past elections: -
Slogan: Futur amb ADN Barça (A Future with Barça DNA)
Xavi Vilajoana is the third pre-candidate for the upcoming elections, together with Freixa and Rousaud, to have been on Bartomeu’s board at FC Barcelona.
He started as the executive in charge of ‘La Masia’ and then was given the responsibility of also leading Barça B and Barcelona’s women's team in April 2020, after Rousaud and five more board members resigned.
In fact, Vilajoana was with Bartomeu right until the end, which will give him a slight advantage: he’s the only pre-candidate who doesn’t need to hand in a financial guarantee because he was part of the previous board.
But now he wants to provide his experience as the sole leader, with a completely refreshed team of executives that have no connection with Bartomeu’s board. It would be a clean slate for the club, or at least that’s what he wants ‘socis’ to believe.
To be fair, Vilajoana is the only candidate who’s been at Barcelona as a player and as an executive. He played for the club’s youth system climbing the ranks to Barça C, which nowadays no longer exists. After that he left to play in a few Segunda B teams to later return in 1997, featuring in Barça’s five-a-side football team, which he would end up captaining.
He retired in 2001 but was working for the club under Laporta shortly after, in 2003. He was in charge of handling the five-a-side team for three years, until he resigned. But would then return again with Rosell to carry out a similar task, until his responsibilities shifted to the youth teams with Bartomeu.
When asked why he didn’t resign before Bartomeu lost so much support, his answer is that it would’ve only benefitted him, not the club. He considers he was doing a good job and wanted to keep developing Barcelona’s ‘La Masia’, and the other teams he was working on.
But despite being quite faithful to Bartomeu, he doesn’t want to be considered the candidate who maintained the status quo and insists he’s 100% independent. In fact, when given the choice to pick one candidate he wouldn’t join forces with for the upcoming elections, he went for Rousaud. Their relationship can’t have been great...
Given his knowledge of FC Barcelona’s youth system it’s no wonder he wants it to be a fundamental pillar in his project. One of his main objectives is to achieve a first-team squad with at least 50% of ‘La Masia’ players. To do that, he’s willing to add a “commitment clause” in a coach’s contract to guarantee he plays the academy graduates.
Another of his ideas is to limit contracts to a two-year extension for players who are 31 years or older, with variable salaries depending on their performances. This would help regulate player wages which should never surpass 50% of the club’s total income, according to Vilajoana.
Finally, it’s interesting to point out that he plans on saving two seats at the board specifically for a ‘soci’ and an ex-Barcelona player, in order to bring fans closer to the club.
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