Tomorrow is one of the biggest days in six years for FC Barcelona, as the club will hold early presidential elections after the last president, now presidential candidate, Josep Maria Bartomeu, called for them to ease the pressure on himself and the club that was in the middle of a crisis not seen since the times of Josep Luis Nunez and Joan Gaspart.
Seven embarked on the quest to secure enough signatures from socis, four of them, Bartomeu, Joan Laporta, Agusti Benedito and Toni Freixa, managed this task, while Joan Batiste, the head of the Seguiment FCB movement, who missed out on the 2534 signatures mark only by 16, Jordi Farre and Jordi Majo failed to do so.
All four presidential candidates have history with Barça and all have been taking part in heated debates, though some have done so less than others. According to polls, only one of two can emerge victorious on Saturday, Bartomeu or Laporta, while Benedito and Freixa have to hope for a miracle. Let's take a closer look at these four men and their plans for Barcelona for the next six years.
Josep Maria Bartomeu
It's only fair to start with Barcelona's outgoing president. Bartomeu has the rare distinction of being a Barcelona president that was not voted so by the socis. The 52-year-old took over from Sandro Rosell in January after the latter resigned due to controversy surrounding the Neymar deal. A deal that has Rosell, Bartomeu and FC Barcelona in two different courts for fraud. Roughly one year after taking over, in January 2015, Bartomeu called for early elections with head coach Luis Enrique close to the chopping block and loud rumors of locker room tension between players, namely Lionel Messi, and the coach.
Bartomeu has Barcelona history from before Rosell's presidency, he was part of Laporta's board as well, but left the same time Rosell did, early in Laporta's time. As is customary, Bartomeu stepped down as president in June and left the managing board in charge of club business, but not before he secured Aleix Vidal as a new signing and extended the contracts of the coach and two players, Pedro Rodriguez and Jordi Alba.
Bartomeu hasn't promised any signings in his campaign these past few weeks, because he was able to deliver on his promise, Arda Turan, through the help of the managing board. Bartomeu did, however, as early as January promised the signing of Juventus star Paul Pogba, and even signed Ariedo Braida as his sporting director for the sole purpose of signing the young Frenchman, but Bartomeu has categorically denied this recently, even claiming he does not know why Braida travelled to Italy.
From early in the campaign Bartomeu was adamant about Qatar Airways being the only option for Barcelona's shirt sponsorship. But with other candidates claiming they have found other options and controversy surrounding Qatar, Bartomeu quickly found a new one as well, rumored to be Japanese e-commerce company, Rakuten. Regardless of who the sponsor will be after the 2015-16 season, Bartomeu is expecting his financial model could bring in €1000 million by the time his term ends. An ambitious plan considering the income for this treble winning season was €608 million.
Sporting-wise, Bartomeu is keeping his plans close to himself as he hasn't revealed much, though he promised to spend €60 million each summer on new signings. He continued that he will attempt to improve the academy, the women's team and other sections, most of which have encountered problems starting with the Rosell regime, but continued under Bartomeu. How he plans to do that he did not mention, but he was quoted in one of the interviews that he doesn't want youngsters, including B team players, training with players above their age level or, in the case of the B team, with the first team. Recently rumors have surfaced that Bartomeu plans to name former Barça B coach Pep Segura as technical director of the youth teams. Bartomeu has yet to name his sporting director, saying that "given the way the campaign is" it is better not to name him.
The "other" former president running for the seat again is, title-wise, the most successful president in FC Barcelona history, with the exception of Nunez, who ruled for 22 years. Laporta was elected president in 2003 after a successful campaign that to some extent included his three opponents in these elections, and led the club through the best period since the Dream Team.
One of the biggest agendas Laporta focused on this campaign was removing Qatar Airways from the shirt and cut all ties with Qatar altogether as soon as possible. He wants to focus on getting Unicef back to the front of the shirts. Laporta also claimed he had other sponsorship offers, but did not reveal their names. He would also allow fans from all over the world to become socis again.
Laporta has promised the signing of the exciting Pogba, but likely not until 2016 and definitely not without Lucho's blessing. Even though Bartomeu planned to do so himself, it was Laporta who was able to benefit from a very friendly relationship with Pogba's agent, Mino Raiola. Laporta also presented a plan on how to get La Masia back to its former glory, which would again be run by Jose Ramon Alexanko, as it was during Laporta's first term. Laporta also named Eric Abidal as his sporting director and Demetrio Albertini as director of institutional relations.
Laporta also feels strongly about increasing Barcelona's Catalan mentality, which he says suffered under the previous board. The 53-year old claimed that he is the best guarantee that "Messi will always be happy". Being a big believer in Johan Cruyff, Laporta also wants the iconic Dutchman to return in some capacity.
A 51-year-old businessman was the co-founder of the Elefant Blau, a movement against Nunez's presidency, led by Laporta. Benedito was part of Laporta's team that won the election in 2003, but resigned from his position in 2009 due to Laporta's involvement with Uzbekistan. Benedito ran for president the following year, but finished second in a landslide win by Rosell.
Is a strong believer that Barcelona's connection with Qatar is damaging the club's image and would break all ties with them as soon as possible. Already presented a sponsorship option in "Flight without wings" that would bring Barcelona from €70 to €80 million per season for three season only to feature on the first-team shirt, not on the training kits. He continued that he also had three other multinationals interested in sponsoring Barcelona, though he is also open to putting Unicef to the front of the shirt instead of a paid sponsor.
Despite claiming that he would not present potential signings, he later confirmed that he was in conversation with Paris Saint-Germain's Marco Veratti and allegedly already has a personal agreement with the player. Benedito also planned to sell controversial signing Arda Turan back to Atletico Madrid, but has since changed his mind and would not do so anymore if he's elected.
Benedito has led a very vocal campaign, even claiming that Barcelona were effectively supporting ISIS with their connection to Qatar. He fully supports the project of an independent Catalunya, but insist that he would not use the club as a political tool. Benedito, a strong Cruyffista himself, has also identified La Masia as one of the weakest links of the club right now and wants to strengthen it. Benedito would like to have Sevilla's Monchi to become his sporting director.
The youngest of the candidates, 47, presents himself as the "third way" - not Laporta nor Bartomeu, even though he served with both of them in the past. He was part of Laporta's winning candidacy in 2003, but departed when the administration crumbled, and returned in 2010 as Rosell's board spokesman whose job was to justify everything the board did to the fans and press, before leaving in 2014. While he hasn't been very vocal against Laporta, except on the Pogba signing that he believes is too expensive, Freixa has often attacked Bartomeu, claiming Neymar's contracts were never shown to the board and saying that Bartomeu and Rosell often acted unilaterally, often cutting out the board members from decisions.
He too wants the removal of any Barcelona connection with Qatar and strengthen La Masia, but has failed to produce any plans on how he would achieve that, though he has named former Barcelona players Jose Mari Bakero as his sporting director and Miguel Angel Nadal as the technical secretary. Freixa would also increase the power of the socis and would strive toward economically capitalizing on being the "best team on the world with the best player".
Freixa has claimed that he too has been in contact with Veratti's agent about a possible move to Barcelona, but did not reveal how close to making that signing actually happen he came, if he were to unlikely win the elections.
Those are the four candidates. If you had a vote, who would you vote for?