Barcelona prepare to ride out choppy waters

Reuters , Thursday 8 Jan 2015

Barcelona bowed to the dual pressures of boardroom strife and fan discontent on Wednesday when president Josep Maria Bartomeu called elections for the end of this season.

The Catalan club were due to hold a presidential vote in 2016 but Bartomeu brought the elections forward a year amid widespread dissatisfaction with his running of the La Liga giants.

The person most likely to be celebrating is former incumbent Joan Laporta, who has been sizing up the possibility of returning to the hot seat.

Laporta experienced extreme highs and lows during seven years in charge after winning the 2003 election with a young board which planned to take the club back to the summit of the European game.

He achieved that by winning the Champions League in 2006 and 2009, but there were plenty of low points along the way with his arrogant approach causing in-fighting at boardroom level.

His stewardship of the club was perhaps encapsulated in an exchange with a fan at an assembly meeting of club members.

When asked about the lack of transparency at the top, Laporta notoriously replied: "Okay, you've had your moment of fame, now sit down."

He survived a vote of no confidence by the skin of his teeth in 2008 and stood down in 2010 as club rules allowed for only two consecutive terms in power.

Laporta has since been able to watch from the sidelines as his former vice-president Sandro Rosell, who became a bitter opponent, took over in 2010 and then fell from grace.

Rosell resigned last January after a judge ordered an investigation into the transfer of Brazilian forward Neymar from Santos in 2013, which Barca said was worth around €57 million.

He was replaced by vice-president Bartomeu, who immediately revealed that the Brazilian's transfer fee was closer to €100 million.

FIFA ban

Despite never winning an election, Bartomeu planned to see out the presidential mandate until 2016, which was permitted under club rules.

Many fans, however, demanded the chance to vote on his future and he has finally caved in.

A Fifa ban on signings for two transfer windows for a breach of rules on recruiting foreign Under-18 players had led to a boardroom crisis that prompted the dismissal of sports director Andoni Zubizarreta on Monday.

Off-field problems have been coupled with a lack of success on the pitch as the team failed to win a major trophy last season and are stuttering under new coach Luis Enrique, who has become embroiled in a bust-up with marquee player Lionel Messi.

Bartomeu, however, has remained defiant.

"I have taken the decision (to call elections) so as to ease the tension which I believe to be disproportionate and doesn't reflect the reality of the club," he said.

"It is a club which is functioning well, we are going to construct a new stadium and on the sporting front we are still in all the competitions.

"We will seek re-election. We started in 2010 and we want to keep going."

With discontent brewing among the club's fans, however, it will be very hard for him to get re-elected.

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