No love for Laporta as Barca go from bad to worse
IÃ¢ÂÂve just got back from the Russian consulate. I was half expecting to be asked to perform a traditional Cossack dance to a panel, but the reality was a mute official who didnÃ¢ÂÂt make eye contact slipping my passport under a glass screen.
I met a Barca fan there who has two tickets for the final which he applied for before his team lost to the champions of England in the semi. HeÃ¢ÂÂs intending to spend three days in Moscow and sell his match tickets for a ÃÂ£1000 each. His face dropped lower than BarcaÃ¢ÂÂs morale when I told him that tickets are not hard to come by.
But before I fly to Moscow, itÃ¢ÂÂs the final weekend of league fixtures in Spain. For Barca fans, it canÃ¢ÂÂt be more eventful than last Sunday when in-form Mallorca and their captain Juan Arango - the only decent footballer to ever come out of Venezuela - came to the Camp Nou.
I arrived an hour before kick-off to see several elderly fans standing outside the main entrance with placards and a loudhailer. One freak who looked like he had absolutely nothing else in his life shouted that the president Joan Laporta should resign and be replaced by Sandro Rossell, LaportaÃ¢ÂÂs former side kick who many expect to run for club president at the next elections.
Barca's elderly protesters
Inside the stadium, a crowd of 39,000 Ã¢ÂÂ by some distance the lowest of the season Ã¢ÂÂ chanted: Ã¢ÂÂBarca Si, Laporta No.Ã¢ÂÂ Laporta sat in his usual seat at the front of the second tier, his expression largely unchanged by the theatrically staged demonstration.
Given it was almost a week since their last one, the locals were in mood for a protest. One unfurled a Ã¢ÂÂMadrid Loves LaportaÃ¢ÂÂ banner and plenty of others had similar calling for BarcaÃ¢ÂÂs president of five years to do the decent thing and go. Behind one goal, the diehard Almogavers - but not diehard enough to travel to away games - even turned their flags upside down as a mark of disrespect.
Other fans wore shirts emblazoned with the slogan 'Frank Si, Laporta No.' In many eyes Rijkaard has been made a scapegoat for the clubÃ¢ÂÂs alarming drop in form. Barca have not won a game since 1987.
Rijkaard, in his penultimate game as coach before Catalan demi-god Joseph Guardiola replaces him, was applauded every time he left the dug out. He will have seen the Ã¢ÂÂFrank Gracies Per TotÃ¢ÂÂ banner (Frank, thanks for everything) in Catalan. And the glorious Ã¢ÂÂRijkaard. YouÃ¢ÂÂll never smoke aloneÃ¢ÂÂ in English.
39,000 into 98,000 = a lot of empty seats
So why is he going? United didnÃ¢ÂÂt sack Ferguson when the team finished third and Arsenal wonÃ¢ÂÂt dispense with WengerÃ¢ÂÂs services. Why do the Spanish look for quick fixes and have an obsession with Ã¢ÂÂcyclesÃ¢ÂÂ and Ã¢ÂÂprojects?Ã¢ÂÂ
Why is there always the unsettling force of a potential president posturing in the background offering a panacea for every problem and promising to deliver Cristiano Ronaldo? And while weÃ¢ÂÂre on that one, donÃ¢ÂÂt they understand that Cristiano is very happy at Old Trafford playing for a better team with his mates? That he values his stable relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson, rather than playing for a club who sack their manager every time the wind blows?
Back at the Camp Nou, BarcaÃ¢ÂÂs players were given similar treatment to Laporta. They entered the field to thousands of black flags and hankies. The team were booed, as were the players individually as their names were announced - even Messi, the one Barca player who couldnÃ¢ÂÂt be faulted for effort in the last tortuous month for Barca.
Deco and EtoÃ¢ÂÂo were singled out for particular criticism and called cowards, the perception being that they had deliberately been booked so as to miss BarcaÃ¢ÂÂs 4-1 recent defeat at Real Madrid. Deco looks like he sucks a dummy, so it was little surprise when he spat it out at half time, fed up with the cries of derision. Barcelona will listen to offers for both players.
Barca actually played well and led 2-0 before Messi was substituted. ThatÃ¢ÂÂs when it all started to fall apart as Mallorca scored three times, the final a last minute winner from Daniel Guiza, La LigaÃ¢ÂÂs top scorer.
That left Barca in third, 18 points behind Real Madrid and 10 behind Villarreal. It should be the Barca players who are forced to do a Russian dance in penance, as they wonÃ¢ÂÂt be travelling to Moscow.