There was a weekend surprise in the pre-election numbers, writes Tim Stannard, which sets up an intriguing battle...
And then there were five in the running to become the unofficial King of Catalonia; aka Barcelona's next president. In order to prevent any yahoo or crazy type – or maybe even Guti up for a laugh and some trouble making – a certain number of signatures have to be gathered in order to be on the official ballot for the elections held in two weeks.
This avoids the presentation being akin to a by-election for Wapping South where some highly amusing japester can stand next to a Prime Minister sporting a huge hat and calling for free cheese everywhere.
We don’t consider ourselves favourites but we are strong candidates
The threshold was 2,534 signatures, a figure that two of the seven men standing failed to reach this weekend.
The frontrunner, in a bit of a shock for Joan Laporta, was the incumbent Josep Maria Bartomeu, who gathered 9,124 names to back his candidacy, way ahead of Laporta on 4,807. “We don’t consider ourselves favourites but we are strong candidates,” admitted Laporta.
Bartomeu’s trump card seems to be the signing of Arda Turan, although the deal seems to be caught up in the delicate situation of there being a transitionary board looking after the club’s affairs.
That, as opposed to a full-blown mandate to splash lots of cash. Paul Pogba is the player Laporta is touting in a La Liga version of Star Wars, although quite why he would want to miss five months of action (due to Barça’s transfer ban) with a home European Championship on the horizon remains a mystery.
But these are the kinds of cheques that may not be cashed: the candidates are allowed to write in the institutional preamble. One boast that Sergio Ramos could be brought to the Camp Nou is still causing quite the kerfuffle over in Mordor. In 2003, Laporta promised that David Beckham was ready to be signed up, before Real Madrid swooped in and Ronaldinho ended up coming instead. Which turned out quite well.
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"Bored to tears"
Another club also out and about wearing the big boy trousers is Getafe. A new coach has been appointed, Elche’s Fran Escribá, a rather stern soul who was once an assistant at the club a decade ago but has now returned to lead the Madrid side into a glorious future. “We wanted to change our model,” boasted president Angel Torres. “We were bored to tears. Getting a connection with the fans is the objective.” That shouldn’t be too hard, considering their names are read out on the PA before the starting line-ups (ho ho). “We are going to be an intense team, one that plays good football, competes and wins,” promised the new boss.
Eibar are another tiny team with big boasts for the future. Having been given a relegation reprieve through Elche's banishing to the second division, the club has appointed José Luis Mendilibar, a manager who's led pretty much every side in the north of Spain, including Eibar. La Liga is seeing a tale of two managers returning to their roots, and two ex-presidents looking for another tenure on the Camp Nou throne.