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Dissabte  05.04.2014  07:58

Autor/s: Pere Cardús i Cardellach

Xavi Torres: "The Barça board has acted only out of vengeance"

Interview with the sports journalist about the Camp Nou referendum, the scandals in the board, and the post-Rosell era


More than 118,000 members of the FC Barcelona are called to vote today in the referendum on the executive board's proposal for remodeling Camp Nou, led by Josep Maria Bartomeu. Between nine in the morning and nine at night, the members will be able to voice their opinions on a controversial proposal that has been criticized widely for its lack of information and high economic cost. In addition, the board is currently immersed in a constant swirl of scandals that brought the elected president, Sandro Rosell, to resign and which reached its climax last week with the sanction from FIFA because of irregularities in contracting international U18 players.

To analyze this unwieldy situation, we spoke with Xavi Torres, sports journalist for TV3, who was the first to report on Sandro Rosell's resignation and who has first-hand knowledge of what's going on inside the club. According to Torres, the lack of important information about the ramifications of the board's proposal—effectively converting it into a blank check—tarnish the quality of today's referendum. In addition, he explains the issues within Bartomeu's board and analyzes Rosell's legacy.

What should people keep in mind as they go to vote today?
I highly value any democratic exercise. I congratulate the board for making this decision available to the members. But I don't understand exactly just what they're voting on. When an organization puts a decision to its members, no matter what the decision is, it has to be completely documented. I believe in projects. And what the board has presented today and what will be voted on is just a proposal. We don't know what kind of stadium it will be. We only know that it will be a stadium with one hundred five thousand seats, that it will be covered, that it will have elevators, that it will have restaurants, another parking lot... But we don't know who is going to build it, how it will be undertaken, or whose name will go on the stadium—one of the pillars of financing it—and we also don't know where people will sit—ten percent of the members will be displaced to new seats that are worse than what they have now—and we don't know which members will be affected by the seat changes.

Many unanswered questions.
There are so many questions that are of interest to the members that don't have an answer that it makes me think that the proposal that is being subjected to a vote by the board is a blank check. In order to vote, you really have to have faith in this board. And credibility is earned as you go... with one's actions every day and with elections. Seeing the electoral program that was presented by this board and noting that most of the things they proposed have not been fulfilled, I don't think that the board has earned the credibility necessary to get a blank check. This vote is a matter of faith because we don't know what the project is. It's really hard for me to tell members to vote Yes. I just don't have the arguments and reasons to trust it.

What interests are behind this stadium remodeling?
Hmm. There isn't a single member who doesn't want the stadium remodeled. I can't imagine a member who is in favor of keeping a stadium from 1957. It's logical that everyone is thinking about making a new stadium. But the circumstances have to be really clear. All of the big clubs that have made a new stadium with investments of this size have then had a terrible period in the sporting arena. Because the money has ended up where it shouldn't have gone. We just don't have that luxury. And there is no urgency to do it now. So although I value the democratic spirit of today's referendum, I can't understand why there is no debate about the alternatives. And there are alternatives. The stadium remodeling projects should be on the electoral programs of the upcoming board elections in 2016, 2015, or 2014, whenever they are. And then, have a full debate on these proposals. Today's proposal, without this debate, is a referendum.

But does the board have special interests in this operation?
I believe that the current board wants there to be a better stadium, like the members they are. And I'm sure it'll be recognized that they were the first ones to propose such a thing to the members. But there are other important economic interests. Right now I don't have conclusive proof, so I'll leave that here. But, as President Bartomeu said the other day, when we have it, we'll talk about it.

Is there a problem with legitimacy of the board and the president to guide an operation of this size?
The truth is that if today the board's proposal is approved, construction won't begin until 2017. That is, beyond the mandate of this board. This board won't be there if the members don't trust in it in the next elections. But, in contrast, they say that the company that puts its name on the stadium will begin to pay before 2016. Therefore, the current board will be the first to benefit from the important injection of funding to do something later. Really, I think they're not being very clear. Legitimacy? Yes, the law allows them to continue until 2016. But football club elections revolve completely around the president. On the ballots there is just one nam. That is, the members vote for the president. There was no ballot with Josep Maria Bartomeu's name. He knows that. He knows that no one voted for him. He knows that they voted for Rosell. Bartomeu should run for election to legitimize his own status. He has the legitimacy that comes from the statutes. But he doesn't have legitimacy on his own.

There is a problem of leadership…
In an organization like FC Barcelona presidential leadership is fundamental. That is clear these days. Everything is drama… because there is no leadership. There are people who are not capable of piloting a ship like this one. An electoral process must be begun so that everyone can prseent their project for Barça. If the current board does exactly what Rosell would have done, it would be different. But the first thing they did was distance themselves from Rosell's trajectory. They wanted to change direction. Tt turns out they want to go in the opposite direction of where Rosell was headed. That delegitimizes them even more.

Will the spate of scandals that the board has gone through during these last few months have consequences on today's referendum result? Will they pay for them?
The board has already won the referendum. I have no doubt. A board that spends almost three million euros on a referendum has obviously done what it had to do. It can't afford to lose. A party against the body… few people… very low turnout… Beyond the turnout, the proportions will be very clear. Why? Because the members are interested in a new stadium. The older members will be able to use the elevators, the big members will have wider seats… In broad strokes, it's in everyone's interest to improve the stadium. The board's proposal will succeed. But succeeding in this way doesn't not give you the moral power or the ethical satisfaction to go forward.

Is it a poison referendum?
The stadium will be constructed in 2017. If they don't win reelection, it will be difficult to carry out this project. Another thing is the quantity of contrasts and penalization clauses that the current board may leave the next president which will make it very difficult to resolve the situation. It'll be like Qatar all over again. Nobody wants it. Not the opposition, not the members of this very board. But to rescind the contract, you have to look at the costs. There are so many penalization clauses that whoever does it is going to have to take the fall, hard. I see it very clearly.

What's the real problem with the board?
It's a management problem. They are bad managers. In life, and also in the life of a football club, if someone runs a project based on the seed of vengeance, if things are done "against" instead of "in favor" then when the accounts are settled and you have to have a positive course of action, it's just not there. When this board eliminated everything that had to do with Cruyff—Guardiola included—after they had done everything they could against Laporta, when they had completely destroyed any thing that came from before, the good and the bad, without distinguishing between them, when it came to construct, they find that they have no project and no ideas. President Rosell always lacked a positive direction. He's always done everything against something else. Nobody can find any trace of Rosell. He's packed up and no one missed him in the slightest. And that is terrible for a president like him. Without his leadership, now there's a board without a project, without ideas, and without a leader!

Managing the problems about the international U18 contracts is an example, right?
This whole mess is pitiful. Barça had built a famous training school in Argentina precisely to not bring kids here and avoid this whole thing. They could have the kids there until they were old enough to compete here. That project was totally criticized by Rosell's candidacy and they closed it the first day he was president. Well, it turns out that that school was the solution for all these problems we're seeing now. And there are many more similar examples. They have resuscitated the Boixos Nois (hooligans), there is the matter of scheduling games—they had promised to be good to families and we have never played such late games so systematically... They have managed the team terribly because they don't have their own project and because they are running on vengeance.

Will Bartomeu last until 2016 with this situation?
It looks pretty bleak to me. There's a new fire every day. And there are still more left. if the Spanish Audiencia (court) indicts Rosell, Bartomeu, Faus and Pont for the issue of the taxes on Neymar's contracts, that could be a big deal. Right now, it is Barça who is being investigated as an organization. That had never happened in the history of the club. In addition, the board is very divided and when these scandals explode, there are a lot of board members who start asking themselves why they're taking on all this personal discredit. Some members of the board are not willing to take lumps every day because of the terrible management. And it's still unclear what is going to happen with the team's results. While the team keeps winning games, the members will be calm, but if they stop winning, people will lose their patience. And now Barça is surviving in three competitions, but we'll see how it ends up. And the way it's going isn't making us very optimistic.

What a scene!
Well, we just have to see if politics make it clear—as in the Gaspart era—that this environment of bad management and tension is bad for everyone. And it would be great if they understood that elections would calm everything down. That if they want to continue, fine, but they have to go through elections. I'm not clear that the political thing will end up happening. They tell me that there is movement. But we'll see.