Barcelona are champions of Spain for the fourth time in five years, have set a club record seven straight wins from the start of term, boast the game’s greatest player in Leo Messi, are favourites to walk off with the Champions League and play the most admired football in the world.
Yet president Sandro Rosell faces a proposal for a moción de censura – a vote of no confidence – by members upset over his links with both Qatar and disgraced ex-Brazilian football supremo Ricardo Teixeira.
In the background – apart from Celtic again! – is the prospect of the club being hit by a €100m claim over a muddled marketing deal as well as a row with Johan Cruyff over the club’s long-promised and long-delayed donation to his charitable foundation.
Rosell is a successful businessman who, since ousting former associate Joan Laporta, has presided over an unprecedented three years of success featuring 11 titles at home and abroad.
The 59-year-old has committed no criminal or civil offence but has infuriated fervent adherents to the notion that Barcelona is ‘more than a club,’ with higher values than any other mere football organisation (be it FIFA, the Spanish federation, Real Madrid [of course!] right down to any local pub or bar team).
They have come together on a protest platform labelled Go Barça and are targeting not only Rosell but his four vice-presidents Javier Faus, Carles Vilarrubi, Jordi Cardoner and Josep Maria Bartomeu.
Main objections are – as they see it – betraying the club’s soul by ‘selling the shirt’ to Qatar Foundation (and/or whichever subsidiary it chooses) and Rosell’s long-time and complicated business relationship with Teixeira. He stands accused, in their eyes, of bringing the club into disrepute.
A fax sent to Rosell (and the media) at the end of August cautioned him that “we will feel free to use all democratic means available through the club to seek explanations.”
If ever put to a vote, this would be the only the third such motion of censure in the club’s history. The first was proposed by Laporta against the then president Josep Lluis Núñez in 1998, the second was launched against Laporta himself a decade later. Neither achieved the necessary support.
Club statutes state that, once a motion has been registered, the club has five working days to make ballot papers available and the complainants have two weeks to obtain the formal support of five per cent of the membership to put the motion to a full vote.
The timing of this particular censure motion is crucial because the board is about to raise the access barrier, as enshrined in the statutes, from five per cent to the far more awkward 15 per cent.
Go Barça has called a press conference for Wednesday to set out its reasoning because “the priority issue should be the Champions League tie against Celtic.”
Also on Wednesday the marketing group MCM is expected to lodge a legal claim against the club over a promotional contract negotiated under Laporta and concerning the La Masia youth academy; this was later put on ice by Rosell.
MCM sources have claimed that the company had sponsors lined up whose investments would have topped the value of the controversial deal with Qatar Foundation.
Barcelona and Qatar partnered up almost as soon as Rosell had become president in the spring of 2010. At the World Cup finals that summer in South Africa a youth coaching event was staged by the Qatar FA; Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola was star attraction.
Qatar was then in full campaigning mode to try to win host rights to the 2022 World Cup. This was granted by the FIFA exco six months later with the assumed voting support of not only UEFA president Michel Platini but also the powerful South American triumvirate of Teixeira, Paraguay’s then CONMEBOL president Nicolas Leoz and Argentina’s Julio Grondona (FIFA’s finance committee chairman and the only one of the trio still on the exco).
In 2011 Rosell signed off on Barcelona’s long-term deal with Qatar Foundation to rebalance the club’s accounts in exchange for emblazoning the Gulf state’s name across the club’s shirts in place of UNICEF.
The objection of Go Barça to the Qatar investment is unconnected with, and has been running far longer than, the current storm concerning the rights, or lack of them, available to Asian construction workers in the Gulf state.
The Teixeira connection stretches back much further, to the early 1990s.
Rosell was a director for a Spanish subsidiary of the then FIFA marketing partner ISL (The same ISL whose bankruptcy led to the eventual revelations of illicit payments for World Cup TV rights to Teixeira and his former father-in-law Joao Havelange). Later Rosell took up a senior marketing role in Brazil with Nike whose multi-million-dollar, long-term sponsorship he negotiated with Teixeira in the latter’s role as CBF president.
To land the record World Cup-winners for the sportswear giant was a magnificent coup for Rosell commercially and personally.
Subsequently he returned to Spain where he launched into business on his own in 2002 as Bonus Sport Marketing and, a year later, became vice-president to new Barcelona president Laporta. Thus empowered he used his powerfully favourable new connections both to maintain the club’s Nike sponsorship (which he had set up in his earlier business life) as well as signing Ronaldinho from Paris Saint-Germain.
The financial and sporting impetus of those two deals may be argued to have laid a foundation for the Barcelona of today. In due course Rosell fell out with Laporta and subsequently ousted him as president in 2010.
Since then the Brazilian media, whose pursuit forced Teixeira to flee both the country and football, has also come across a paper trail concerning Teixeira and Rosell’s business links. These include operations such as Ailanto Marketing and at least one shell company in the United States which has benefited lucratively from the CBF’s friendly match contracts.
Rosell has also reportedly assisted his friend Teixeira in the latter’s obtaining residency in Andorra (Coincidentally, Estado of Sao Paulo claims to have obtained papers revealing an Andorran bank as the deposit holder of a slice of the CBF match commissions).
The drip, drip, drip of allegations prompted Rosell, in late August, to undertake a responsive interview with Catalunya Radio.
He denied any allegations of wrongdoing and said he had every right to pursue his own private business interests before becoming president of Barcelona. Since then he claimed to have taken great care to avoid any activity which might be adduced as a conflict of interests. If anyone suggested anything else then he would “see them in court.”
Rather than clear the air, as Rosell must have hoped, he found the interview only infuriated Go Barça all the more. He was accused of evasive answers, particularly with reference to his past ‘commissions’ (A word with unfortunate connotations from Teixeira’s involvement in the ISL scandal).
On Rosell’s behalf, in his original role for Nike, his responsibility was to negotiate with the president of the CBF: that Teixeira happened to be the president was entirely the choice of Brazilian football.
Companies in which Rosell has had legitimate interests have been linked, down the years, with not only Teixeira but also Grondona and, in Spain, with the national football federation headed by Angel Maria Villar (a vice-president of both FIFA and UEFA and a possible contender for the FIFA presidency in 2015).
Rosell has never been charged with using his influence improperly nor have legal proceedings been issued against him. No complaint has ever been raised against him by the CBF and the only inquiries ongoing concern monies paid by the Brasilia state government to Ailanto for organising a friendly locally between Brazil and Portugal in 2008.
Go Barça’s supporters have worked diligently and passionately in defence of the spirit of Barcelona and have promoted their case and concerns effectively through social media. They support professional football’s need for a moral compass and believe that Rosell falls far short.
Such idealism in and around the ultra-capitalist pinnacle of world football is both rare and refreshing and deserves wide recognition.
Whether the mass of Barcelona’s members will look beyond the results game is another matter entirely.