Tue | Sep 28, 2021

Barcelona to elect new president amid crisis

Published:Sunday | March 7, 2021 | 12:10 AM

In this file photo dated Monday, March 1, 2021, Catalan police enter FC Barcelona’s offices in Barcelona, Spain, where they detained several people in a search and seize operation.  More than 110,000 Barcelona club members will elect a new president tod
In this file photo dated Monday, March 1, 2021, Catalan police enter FC Barcelona’s offices in Barcelona, Spain, where they detained several people in a search and seize operation. More than 110,000 Barcelona club members will elect a new president today amidst a club crisis with police investigation and a debt burden.

BARCELONA, Spain (AP):

Just days after their last elected president spent a night in jail, members of Football Club Barcelona will vote for a new one to steer the club out of its most tumultuous period in recent memory.

More than 110,000 members are eligible to cast ballots today to choose from three men: former president Joan Laporta, businessman Víctor Font, and longtime board member Toni Freixa.

The winner will inherit a club facing daunting problems.

Barcelona’s reputation of being a socially conscientious institution expressed in their slogan “More than a club” has been tarnished by an odd scandal that has bloomed into a police investigation into alleged misdoing. The so-called “Barçagate” centred on allegations that the former executive board had hired an Internet services company to spread negative messages about their own players and opponents on social media to boost the image of senior club officials.

Former president Josep Bartomeu denied the accusations. But after several months of investigation, Catalan police arrested him and three other club officials on Monday on suspicions of administrative irregularities.

NUMBING DEBT

In addition to restoring the image of a well-run club, the new president will be hampered by a numbing debt of US$1.3 billion. That debt load was caused in part by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic that has left Camp Nou void of spectators since March, but also because of the highest payroll in football.

The 48-year-old Font, as the only outsider of the candidates with no experience in the club’s administration, is calling for a renewal of the club.

“What the (scandal surrounding Bartomeu) shows is that we need to change the way the club is run,” Font said Friday in the candidates’ final debate. “We have [over] a billion euros in debt, Camp Nou is in need of a renovation, and since Monday a club president is in jail. We are sick and tired of it, and it is time to turn the page.”

The future of Lionel Messi has also weighed heavily on the campaign, which has been widely followed in Spain. The club’s all-time leading scorer wanted to leave last summer. Messi has since said he will decide his future after the season ends, when his contract expires and he could walk away for free.

Laporta presided over Barcelona between 2003-2010 during Messi’s breakout and the start of Pep Guardiola’s coaching career. In addition to his successful first stint, his top lure for voters is his claim that he is the best positioned to convince Messi to stay put.

Based on the member signatures that candidates needed to get on the ballot, Laporta appears to be the favourite. The former president gathered 9,625 signatures, compared to 4,432 by Font and 2,634 by Freixa.