And then there were three…
With the delayed Barcelona presidential elections now just a week away, the pool of candidates has been whittled down from an original nine to just three names: Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Toni Freixa.
In the midst of a pandemic, with debts stacking into the hundreds of millions and the club’s best ever player on the verge of walking away for free, let’s take a look at the men keen to take on arguably football’s toughest gig.
Slogan: Estimem el Barça (We Love Barça)
Key selling points: Previous success, relationship with Messi and La Masia
Laporta appears the overwhelming favourite ahead of the vote, having presented 10,257 signatures from Barça socios (members) to qualify for the presidential race. The mandatory minimum was 2,257, while no other candidate received more than 5,000.
Laporta – a brash character with a history in Catalan politics – is an easy sell to most Barça fans. He knows the club and, in fact, presided over much of the recent success, having been president between 2003 and 2010 – a spell in which the club won four La Liga titles, two Champions League and the Copa del Rey.
His candidacy also harks back to an era of self-sufficiency, when La Masia and the ingrained DNA of Cruyff could produce all the superstars the club would ever need.
He has pledged a makeover of Barça’s famous academy if he is elected – even co-opting Liverpool’s motto ‘you’ll never walk alone’.
However, that perception of an academy-first purist might be a little off the mark and he is also known to have close ties to ‘super-agents’ like Mino Raiola. Laporta once staked his 2003 campaign on the marquee signing of David Beckham – which of course didn’t happen.
Not afraid of a publicity stunt, he grabbed headlines in December with a stories-high banner of his face alongside the message ‘looking forward to seeing you’ next to the Bernabeu.
In the last days of campaigning, Laporta has hinted at an interest in Dortmund wonderboy Erling Haaland and talked up the need to get Messi smiling again.
Slogan: Si al Futur (Yes to the Future)
Key selling points: Relationship with Xavi, business realism
After Laporta, the man with the second most signatures (just over 4,700) is Victor Font, the CEO of a venture capital firm and long-time Barça socio.
At the forefront of Font’s campaign is the names he’s lined up to work alongside him, most notably promising Xavi will be involved with the club ‘from day one’ if he wins.
A shared organisation chart from the end of December showed Xavi as ‘general manager’ while Jordi Cruyff was named ‘sporting director’. Somewhat, embarrassingly Cruyff – who is currently the head coach of Shenzen FC – quickly played down his involvement in the plans.
Font has also promised more roles for women on his board.
He is also pro Messi remaining at the club, and has said he is ‘convinced’ he can get the six-time Ballon d’Or winner to remain at Camp Nou. A Neymar return, however, is not a priority for Font.
In addition, Font hit out at main rival Laporta’s big transfer talk, calling speculation over Haaland ‘irresponsible’.
Referencing the financial crisis at the club, Font’s campaign website talks of implementing a plan to balance the books for this season during his first 100 days, before refinancing the heaps of debt during the summer with the ultimate goal of keeping the club in the hands of its members and not turning it into a PLC.
Font has also proposed bringing back charity UNICEF as the club’s principal shirt sponsor.
Slogan: Fidels al Barça (Loyal to Barça)
Key selling points: knows the club, plans for fan involvement
A member of the Barcelona board under the last three presidents, Freixa is a lawyer by trade, who finished in last place in the 2015 elections with just 3.7% of the vote. He is undeterred this time around, despite claims his candidacy represents more of the same in a system gone wrong.
Freixa – who is a regular on Spanish TV when it comes to discussing Barça – has insisted he is different from his predecessors, while his website puts faith in La Masia, as well as the target of filling the Camp Nou every week with added fan involvement in decision making.
Unlike Laporta, Freixa doesn’t do politics, claiming they don’t have a place in football.
He has also been tight-lipped on the hot topic of Messi, though less so on Neymar. Freixa has called the Brazilian who left Barça in 2017 ‘not one of the top 30 players in Europe’.
He is also committed to keeping manager Ronald Koeman in place for the time being.
A rank outsider he made the claim this week that he has already made agreements with two star players (one attacker, one defender) to join the club if he is elected.
Who they are, we may never know. Freixa is not going to win…