Time is running out for FC Barcelona. While the club continues its ascent to the lofty heights of super-stardom and beyond into the history books that define our game; all is not well off the field. Football is a business, and the boardroom could have an unwelcome impact on the pitch. It appears Barcelona may have more than just Real Madrid to contend with after all...
Upon his election, Sandro Rosell divided opinion like no other. Some applauded his sense of business acumen, others took offense to the Qatar Foundation deal, and some choked back vomit with his mere mention. Since then, not much has changed; sure he signed Cesc Fabregas on the (relative) cheap, and in Alexis Sanchez, the club has a star with the potential to add another invaluable dimension on the pitch, but the man is still an unpopular figure.
His relationship with Joan Laporta has always been tricky. Considering the scale of public animosity the pair have exhibited towards one another, it is inconceivable to think that Laporta and Rosell were once colleagues.
Resigning because Laporta "did not follow his plan for the club"; Sandro looked to be a mere footnote in the club’s history. The signing of Ronaldinho was crucial to the club in terms of merchandise and success on the pitch, but even that was accredited to Laporta.
Rosell slinked away from the club with barely with a mention. Laporta thrived in his absence.
The club registered its second and third UEFA Champions League trophies, not to mention the sextuple-winning side of his final two years. Joan Laporta signed Pep Guardiola as manager, Laporta was the man in charge when Lionel Messi rose to prominence, Rosell was merely the man who continued his legacy. How could you follow such success?
Obviously, Rosell has also been a very successful president in terms of trophies won, but behind his success lurked Laporta. Initially Guardiola had his critics, people argued that he was merely continuing where Rijkaard left off, but as time passed, opinions changed, and the attention turned to Sandro Rosell.
"What has he done? Sold the shirt and kept Laporta’s team together!"
After his election, Rosell tried (unsuccessfully) to turn the tide with a claim that Laporta fiddled with the club accounts. His audit turned profits to losses, and while that was meant to substitute Laporta favouritism with Rosell support, all it actually did was scream bitterness, an undesirable trait for the leader of a worldwide brand. Of course fans were and are concerned about the financial state of the club, but most know that debt is manageable so long as you have an income, and Barcelona have that in abundance.
Sandro could not sign Cesc Fabregas in his first year, and in the second he divided opinion with the signing. It seemed that whatever he would do, Barca fans would just shrug their shoulders and think Laporta would have managed it better. For a while, they were right.
Selling the sacred Blaugrana jersey to the Qatar Foundation was a mistake, and it is reported that he tried to engineer a deal with the same foundation to rename the Camp Nou. It's funny that Roman Abramovich is alienating some Chelsea fans with his attempt to buy Stamford Bridge leading to a bigger, better modern stadium (huh?), Rosell stopped the renovations and tried to sell the naming rights of the Camp Nou.
At least Roman invests heavily into his club...
Anyway, what Rosell has done so far is insignificant. The deal with the Qatar Foundation will expire in six years and the renovations for the Camp Nou can be started again in the future. One thing will not be easy to correct: if Sandro Rosell causes a shift in management.
Pep Guardiola is a long-time friend of Johan Cruyff. The Dutch legend is the Spaniard’s idol, and Guardiola values his friend’s input. The change to 3-4-3 has been a well-publicised move, and there is no question of where it came from: the influence of Johan Cruyff. The new contracts can be partly attributed to Cruyff and when the pair went for a meal two weeks ago, alarm bells surely started to ring.
Rosell must have been worried. What was his manager doing with the man he had such a public fall-out? What were they discussing? As it turns out, the conversation which would have mainly consisted of FC Barcelona and football in general turned to Joan Laporta.
Johan Cruyff is a fan of Laporta. After all, he was made honorary president by the same man, and, no doubt, they remain in contact. Whether or not there was a call from Laporta asking for this to happen is unclear, but Cruyff presumably mentioned a certain court case in which Joan Laporta is a defendant. The socios took a vote, after one in particular chose to sue Laporta, asking to freeze €23 million worth of assets belonging to the the previous board. Even for such businessmen as them, it would have been crippling, and Guardiola was made aware of this.
When all was done at the Camp Nou, FC Barcelona had dismantled Atletico Madrid; yet another Manita, all against a team at the forefront of the league. The players were ready to go home, and Pep Guardiola had to attend to the customary post-match press conference. The line of questioning should have surrounded the performance, the 3-4-3 and the seamless change in the second half to 4-3-3. But it didn't. Lionel Messi’s hat-trick was also lost in amidst the bombshell question and it’s response.
There was one question about the game, and then out of no-where it appeared; the elephant in the room: Guardiola was asked about Joan Laporta.
Ever the smooth operator, Pep did not comment directly about the case. He stated his affection for the previous board, and brought attention to the successes they achieved. It was a sly answer, but one that really was thinly veiled, acerbic perhaps; it was a reference to the court case.
Why else would Guardiola mention the previous board? It was clear for all to see, Guardiola was testing the waters. Just how much power does he have? Unlike Mourinho, the suave Spaniard did not address the problem head-on offering an ultimatum, he just gave his opinion. He knows that the Barcelona community hangs off his every word, and in giving his opinion on the previous board, he found that his words can even impact legal matters. It was Guardiola who intervened in board matters, and a statement had to be released by Rosell saying that they "respect his words".
The very next week, the previously bellicose socio withdrew his motion to freeze Laporta and the previous board’s assets. No doubt Sandro Rosell had to lean on him, but it was done. Guardiola found that his influence is near total, and Rosell for the time being has been forced to back down.
Will Guardiola continue to push the boundaries? Could Rosell go behind Pep’s back and make a mega-signing (such as Neymar) to showcase his power? Significantly, Guardiola’s contract is running out. This season stands be his last in charge, and that means contract negotiations will soon commence.
If Sandro Rosell goes in half-heartedly because of that event, Guardiola would likely decline and take his talents elsewhere. Not only would FC Barcelona lose a coach, but who knows if any of the players would follow? Would Lionel Messi follow his mentor to pastures new? Fear-mongering? Perhaps, but the threat is a real one.