Bernabeu set for a face-lift as Barça move one step closer to a 'hidden war'

Both Barcelona and Real Madrid can claim to have been more than entertaining in their respective weekend victories. The first 15 seconds at the Santiago Bernabeu, for example, were particularly compelling.

And both clubs also delivered in their own special ways on the traditionally fusty, dusty institutional level. Normally a day spent watching pompous, boastful men in their 50s, jangling their jowls whilst talking endlessly about finances and waving voting cards is as skull-dentingly tortuous as a 2010/11 Deportivo season highlights DVD. But with Barça and Real Madrid involved, one never quite knows what’s going to happen when the club’s big bosses get down and dirty in their annual assemblies with their members.

Perhaps less so at Real Madrid since the departure of Ramón Calderón, whose alleged vote-rigging (strongly denied by the former president) during the club’s 2008 General Assembly eventually forced his resignation.

In a carefully controlled event on Sunday, Florentino Pérez proposed a number of measures to the club’s ‘compromisarios’ - those given the power to approve accounts and what-not - and saw them all passed with flying colours. What’s more, the Madrid president lumped all of his chips on José Mourinho, heaping praise on the pokey Portuguese despite also declaring with some gusto that “the values of Real Madrid are clean play, effort, sacrifice, respect and the fight against injustice.”

“There’s no doubt that Madrid is with Mourinho, and so is the president, the directors, the Assembly and the socio,” wrote AS editor, Alfredo Relaño, whose paper trumpeted a 42 second ovation given by the those present to the maverick Madrid manager.

Roberto Gómez - who has always been a Capello/Calderón kind of guy - provided what was a rare slice of criticism in the Madrid press, with the observation that the speech “did not explain the exorbitant ticket prices, the season ticket rises, Mourinho’s constant criticisms of referees and committees.”

The speech did however suggest Florentino shares his manager’s suspicions that UEFA were out to do everything in their power to ensure Barcelona won the 2011 Champions League. “If we didn’t win it last season it wasn’t because of us, we did everything to win it,” maintained the club president.

The big bit of business pushed through was the approval of the proposed €200 million remodeling of the outside of the Santiago Bernabeu, which admittedly does look like it needs a lick of paint. By 2014 the Madrid stadium looks set to be a shining, neon beacon of white light against the bleak darkness of Mordor.

Barcelona had their own assembly on Saturday, and the big concern for club president Sandro Rosell was whether or not the €165 million deal with the Qatar Foundation would be approved by club members. After a heavy newspaper campaign backing the ‘yes’ vote and dire warnings from Rosell of the consequences of saying ‘no’, the partnership was approved by a comfortable margin. The assembly also voted to impose a ban on smoking in the Camp Nou and the establishment of a sort of singing corner in the stadium - which can only give LLL even more ammunition in the seasons to come.

The biggest controversy from Saturday’s event related to last year’s assembly, when the motion was carried to pursue Joan Laporta and his board for the alleged losses of the club in the last financial year of €79.6 million. Those legal proceedings are ongoing with those accused of economic mismanagement on the brink of having assets frozen - accusations all denied.

This forced Pep Guardiola to speak out in support of his former president and colleagues who took a huge gamble in giving the former player the role as manager. “They are suffering and they don’t deserve to,” said the Barça boss after the Atlético victory. I hope this can end well. They did very well. My esteem for them is infinite and I feel sad.”

While the Madrid press have leapt on the the rift and tried to widen it with pneumatic tools, even a Barcelona media torn between the current regime and the huge man love for Pep Guardiola are sensing danger. “A Barça manager should not take part in topics already approved by the members,” warned Santi Nolla in Mundo Deportivo, a paper that reports Guardiola had dinner with Laporta and Johan Cruyff last Thursday.

“The club has already suffered too many years of intrigues between ‘Nuñistas’ and ‘Cruyffistas’, now we could have an hidden war of ‘Rosellistas’ and ‘Laportistas’” lamented Josep María Casanovas in Sport.

The official response from Toni Freixa, the Barça board’s spokesman, to Guardiola’s comments was that it was too late to drop the case against Laporta, arguing that “we can’t take it back now as the members ratified it.” Freixa also soothed that “we understand his words to be a personal opinion on a personal relationship that he has.”

For the next couple of days at least, attentions return to the football field and Real Madrid’s Champions League clash with Ajax at the Bernabeu on Tuesday and Barcelona’s trip to the fun capital of Europe, Belarus, to face BATE Borisov a day later. But with Joan Laporta promising to speak out later in the week, it’s crossed fingers from the blog that there are more scandalous tit bits to come in Catalan capital.