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Kevin Williams


Mes que un stadium, aka “Truth, social media and what we know”

Image via fcbarcelona.cat

Image via fcbarcelona.cat

Armageddon happened yesterday, set to the sound of cloven hooves clad in Gucci loafers. Or not. It all depends.

FC Barcelona is a lot like sex, or a hot fudge sundae — pretty hard to mess up. So when socis went to the polls on Saturday to vote for … something or other that was going to cost, more or less, EUR 600m, the logic was in fact rather easy to see:

– Boy, do we need a new stadium
– We’re a big club, and need one of those fancy big-club stadium complexes
– Barça will be fine
– What’s Twitter and tweeting? What do bird sounds have to do with Barça?

Of the 118,000+ socis who could have voted for the stadium proposal, just over 30% actually showed up to vote. Of that percentage, an overwhelming majority (70+%) voted yes to the nou Nou.

Faced with the results of that vote, a number of people did a number of things. Some shrugged. Others applauded. Still others gnashed teeth and rent garments in horror and outrage at the gullibility of culers. Can’t they SEE what is happening to this club? Can’t they SEE the nefarious plans that this board has for the soul of the club?

On social media, most notably Twitter, it was fairly easy to set up a follow list that presented you with a worldview that made you think the “No” vote actually had a chance in hell of having sway. It’s the same reason reliability ratings for various appliances are skewed: only the folks with issues complain. The rest think, “What, everything’s fine.”

Photo by FC Barcelona

Photo by FC Barcelona

There is a vociferous cadre of culers who believe that this board has horns and smells of brimstone. They speculate that there are already deals in place to essentially turn over the stadium to Qatar, and lock us into deals that will come with hefty penalty clauses, should we fail to follow through on the soul selling.

That cadre believes that this stadium referendum was a vote for the soul of the club, a last-ditch attempt to wrest control of the club away from the forces of evil. A vote for the referendum, and giving the board the right to deal with this project is essentially saying yes to Gaspart 2.0.

To be frank, even as I wouldn’t trust this board to make me a peanut butter sandwich (jelly would be a bit much), at some point you have to say to yourself, “I believe that Barça is an entity that can’t be screwed up.”

That’s what we have to go on. There is a group of socis who read the Catalan sport dailies, Sport and MD, and trust. Why wouldn’t they, after all? The papers are covering the club, and if you can’t filter all of that stuff through a strainer or other media outlets as well as your own skepticism and mistrust, what’s there to argue with?

Might your own mistrust be misguided? Ssssshhh!

In a lot of ways, the view of the stadium project is tempered by many things, but most fundamentally your view of the board and the baggage that it carries. Obviously, a lot has happened during the tenure of Sandro Rosell/J.M. Bartomeu. If you believe in baggage, they should be tarred, feathered and run out of town. If you don’t believe in baggage, or if you believe that they are in fact saving the club rather than killing it by selling its soul, piece by piece, you have a different view of things, rather like following a Barça match via social media.

What we see, what we know

During the most recent Barça Champions League match I was watching on TV, with one eye on social media. The prevalent tone was that Neymar was mediocre, ineffective and gave the ball away too much in “dangerous positions.” The notion started like a brush fire that became a conflagration and suddenly, Neymar was being cursed every time he touched the ball and didn’t score a goal.

So, skeptic that I am, I caught a rebroadcast, and tracked how many times Neymar, Messi, Xaxi, Iniesta and Alves lost the ball. Neymar lost the ball 7 times, all in or near the opponent’s box except for one time at midfield. Messi lost the ball more than Neymar, in roughly the same areas, again once at midfield.

And then the goal came, and pretty much the same cabal who wanted Neymar eviscerated for losing the ball “too much,” gave full and absolute credit for the goal to the Iniesta pass. None credited the absurd one-touch finish.

What’s the lesson? That social media can shape a conversation in deceptive ways.

Many of the people I follow on Twitter are journalists, interesting Barça pundits and people who aren’t all that fond of the board. So as I was reading, Tweeting and rabble rousing, it would have been tempting to think that the stadium referendum was in danger. Why not, right? Look at the preponderance of people who are voting “NO,” who are photographing and posting their “NO” ballots for the world to see. This is gonna be awesome! The referendum will lose, it will force the board to take a long, hard look in the mirror and call for elections in June. Out with the bums!

Because in the same way social media skews a match view, it also skews every other view. The people who were really going to affect the stadium vote maybe don’t Tweet. Maybe they aren’t voracious social media users. They are directly in the sphere of influence of the Catalan sports dailies, watch Barça TV at home, and discuss the club with their friends. And even if many of us in the opposition group can’t understand it, they don’t think that these guys are doing all that badly.

Club debt is vanishing at a record pace, some excellent signings have been made, the team is active for the Treble. What’s not to like? That FIFA thing will be worked out, just as the Neymar tax liability will be. I believe in my club, and we do need that new stadium, so that we can puff our our chests when our friends from that Other Spanish City come to visit, and we can say “Our stadium is prettier than yours, and doesn’t look like a Tupperware container.” No worries.

But there is another side, who says that we are crazy to trust this crew with this stadium project, that we don’t know what kinds of deals they are cooking up behind the scenes, the corrupt buggers, that I wouldn’t even trust them to get me an ice cream much less shepherd our club into modern times. Just look at the litany of grievances, from Guardiola to Abidal to missing center backs to FIFA bans and conspiracy theories.

What do we REALLY know

The stadium referendum passed. We have a notion of what the new project will entail, and a starting figure for how much it will cost. We know that Bartomeu has said that the surname deal will probably be for 20 years/200m. We know that it will begin in 2017, which is the year after this board is gone, if socis vote them out in the 2016 elections.


Everything else is speculation, based how a supporter feels about the board.

So now what?

For the record, I am one of those people who wouldn’t trust these guys to get me an ice cream. For me, they have a track record of underhandedness and shady dealings that spit in the face of the transparency that Rosell ran on. They waved the Catalan flag during the elections, then tossed it aside when they took office in favor of a “For Sale” sign. Their focus on the new stadium meant many important things were NOT being looked at, so instead of the team renovation that should have been an ongoing process, now we have to hope that FIFA will, during the appeal process, allow us to make transfers before we bend over and take our spanking for improper handling of foreign players. (See? Rosell was right. If those spots had gone to Catalan boys, we’d have no trouble right now.)

I don’t believe in the Debt Monster, nor do I believe that this board is slaying it. I look with skepticism at our record profits, which are rather curiously what we are getting from Qatar (Insert Name Here) for the front of the shirt. I look with skepticism at the austerity that forbade signings this club needed and color copies, the austerity that was kicked to the curb when it came time to sign a Brazilian phenom and plan a nou Nou.

What shapes my view? Good question. As one of those undesirable foreign socis, I tend to consume a great many different sources of club news and information, from Sid Lowe and Graham Hunter, to WhoScored and The Independent. I visit websites, follow links, read opinion pieces and do all sorts of things in an effort to stay “informed.”

It is worth noting that much of what is written about the club is bollocks … nonsense transfer rumors, made-up quotes and other effluvia. But it’s all part of what goes into creating a larger, more semi-complete picture of what I think is going on.

Like a member of the tinfoil hat brigade, I hang on to my beliefs even in the face of a board that has, prima facie, done nothing wrong, even as it has done many things that I dislike intensely, from selling the shirt to the way they jettisoned Abidal. And in many ways that galls me as I wrestle with doubt and distrust. Some examples:

– They made Guardiola leave. (No, Guardiola was quoted as saying that he himself chose to leave because he couldn’t do it any longer with this team.)

– They made Abidal leave. (Well, yes, but it depends on who you believe about that contract business. And truth to tell, he hasn’t been all that hot lately for Monaco, and might not make the France WC squad.)

– Rosell is corrupt. (He was exonerated of the Brazil friendlies stuff, is what we know.)

– They manipulated the debt numbers. Well, duh … so did Laporta and every other president. Winning means you get to define truth.

And so on, and so forth. The Qatar royals were in Barcelona for the Betis match. The antis say that they were there to celebrate being able to fully take over the club, starting with the new stadium, that eventually the club will be taken public and sold to Qatar.

An interesting view, but not one that I hold with. And in full honesty, the biggest reason I don’t trust or like this board is that something doesn’t smell right. And that something bothers me. Too much has happened for it to all be coincidence, with the latest blow being the FIFA transfer ban. You could argue many things, even the lack of transfers in that the right players indeed haven’t come along, that the complexities even immensely talented players face in fitting into this club argue against panic buys. You could argue that. Nothing is nailed down, everything is subjective speculation.

But for me, this board hasn’t sweated for the shirt that it wasted no time selling, front and inside. I don’t want record profits or a zillion sponsorships. I want center backs and trophies. I don’t want a new stadium if it comes at the cost of a priceless generation of talent that, but for a few of the right signings, could have enjoyed even more success. I wonder about its personnel choices and think that Eusebio is a prat, even as he has B sitting in 8th spot in the table, because results are one thing while play is something else.

Trust nothing

I have no idea how many of you get your Barça news and information. I assume BFB is part of it, but I can tell you this: You should trust nothing. There are agendas, skewed information and biases. Take what you get, use all of it to paint the complete picture of what you want to believe, and don’t be afraid to be proven wrong and admit as such. That’s part of it.

You should worry about this club, even as you should understand that it’s pretty hard to fully screw up. Because the club is part of it. It isn’t just the team. Yes, you can just watch matches and cheer for your favorite players and shut it all off when the match is over. But for me, that is an incomplete picture. I want everything. The warts, the politics, the speculation, the internal struggles.

People scoff at things such as the FIFA ban, and say that “mes que un club” isn’t. I in turn scoff at them, because “mes que un club” isn’t some holier-than-thou slogan that the club throws about, written on a banner made of the purest white silk. It is what the club represents to its supporters. It’s charitable foundations, it’s La Masia, it’s politics and Ultras, it’s everything all at once as the club represents a very deep thing for an “autonomous region” that is regaining its identity and wrestling with independence.

And no matter WHAT happens, FIFA bans, tax men calling, payments to player fathers, sold shirts and resigning presidents, “mes que un club” is every bit as valid because it isn’t righteousness … it’s fact.


I wonder, struggle, distrust and doubt everything, even my own doubt and distrust. But I do know this: You can’t kill Barça. This club has had some rancid, festering bastards as presidents, men who with their boards have done damage, set the club back and caused some pain. But through it all, the club survives. It even sometimes thrives. Its most virulent enemies will often come from within. So for me this latest group, even as my loathing of them at times makes me splutter and fume like a rabid dog with Tourette’s, will pass.

It might be 2016, it might be 2022, but it will pass. And the club will survive whatever damage, real or metaphoric, might or might not be inflicted upon it. Because that is what great things do.

Kevin Williams is a journalist with the 'Chicago Tribune', based in Chicago, Illinois. This article first appeared in the Barcelona Football Blog and is republished here with permission.