Who's the next big Barça boss? Tim Stannard [surely not - Ed.] investigates the options in this weekend's presidential elections...
The most disappointing aspect of the Barcelona presidential elections, as far as La Liga Loca is concerned, is the distinct lack of down-in-the-dirt mud-slinging from the four candidates heading into Saturday’s popularity contest.
While this kind of behaviour was perhaps not to be expected from the incumbent Josep Maria Bartomeu, who is as flamboyant and daring as an IT consultant, Joan Laporta has shown enormous self-restraint throughout the month-long media offensive to win the votes of the Barcelona members, considering he has the reputation as a bit of an unpredictable trash-talker.
Technically, there are four candidates for the throne but Agusti Benedito and Toni Freixa are almost literally making up the numbers and merely jostling for a position on the boards of the candidates who have a real chance of victory and being declared King of Catalunya.
Before the electioneering began in earnest, LLL would have given Laporta a huge chance of taking back the title he lost in 2010, when forced to step down due to term limits. Some of the earlier controversies of his Barcelona presidency – such as failing to deliver the promised David Beckham, accusations of being a demagogue and using the club to launch a career in Catalan politics – had been forgotten, with the gold dust of “Pep’s Dream Boys” being liberally sprinkled over the past.
Despite Josep Maria Bartomeu’s presidency delivering a treble, many of the more traditional-minded members were troubled by a less desirable hat-trick: the decline of La Masia’s first-team output, the rejection of UNICEF and the cosy cuddle-up to Qatar. And that whole “being charged with tax fraud and dragging Barcelona’s name through the legal dirt” business over Neymar’s contract. And also the fact that Leo Messi doesn’t seem to like him that much.
Although Laporta has tried to hit all those vulnerability sweet spots, including during a televised debate with the four candidates, there have been no knock-out blows. Instead, Bartomeu has been all about solidity, certainty and predictability, attributes not always associated with his main rival, who was responsible for the club’s huge financial loss through the purchase and very swift sale of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. And taking off his trousers in anger at an airport.
In an interview with Marca on Thursday, Bartomeu even claimed that he would happily vote for a candidate with dubious legal credentials. “Being charged is nothing serious. It simply means you are being investigated. So of course, I would vote for [that person].”
A poll shows that the two candidates are currently neck and neck with just hours left of campaigning. Barcelona members will now have a major decision to make: whether to forgive Josep Maria Bartomeu, who has been part of a fundamental shift in Barcelona’s philosophy whilst delivering sporting success, or a return to Joan Laporta, who promises a return to Barça being “more than just a club”. To make sure that happens, Laporta may have to get more down and dirty to unseat a figure using solidity over uncertainty as his campaign weapon.