Barcelona’s future depends on upcoming club elections in which three members are running as official candidates to become the next president. They are Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Toni Freixa.
The trio made the cut by reaching 2,257 signatures of support, while a further six bids have already fallen by the wayside in a very competitive environment, defined by a global pandemic that has limited mobilisation and even forced some pre-candidates to offer a door-to-door pick up service.
Such are the complications and health issues derived from the pandemic that the possibility of postponing the elections is on the cards. 24 January remains the date for voting to take place… for now.
But what do these three Barça members bring to the table, and do they have what it takes to steer the club away from its current financial crisis?
Joan Laporta – Experience or nostalgia?
Submitted signatures: 10,272
Approved signatures: 9,625
If any doubts persisted about whether Joan Laporta is the favourite to win these elections, the vast number of signatures submitted by his team have surely eliminated those
He has exceeded expectations, is not too far away from Sandro Rosell’s hand-in of 12,635 validated signatures in 2010, and he is also smashing his previous numbers from the 2003 and 2015 elections. Only this time he’s managed it during a pandemic. Josep Lluís Nuñez still holds the record with 26,619 validated signatures in 1989.
Given Barça’s current crisis on the balance sheet as well as on the pitch, Laporta is, for many, the ideal candidate to take charge and get the club back on an even keel. He is a leader who already knows what it’s like to reset a football club during difficult times. The question is whether he can do it again.
During his previous presidency between 2003 and 2010, Laporta was extremely successful when it came to winning titles. But it coincided with Leo Messi’s emergence, Xavi and Andres Iniesta’s maturity and Pep Guardiola’s appointment, among other factors. All of this, remember, under Johan Cruyff’s guidance and wisdom.
Despite only an ageing Messi remaining from those glorious years, the memories evoked are still very present in the minds of thousands of culés (Barcelona fans) who yearn to relive a unique moment in the club’s history. But repeat performances of this magnitude are never easy, and comparisons can be odious.
For now, Laporta is trying to play on that perceived advantage by revealing a gigantic banner near the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu with the following statement: “Looking forward to seeing you again.” It was a statement in itself, a powerful way of reminding everyone in Spain of the days when Barça overpowered Real Madrid.
In addition, Laporta has also shown less of his rebellious self in order to stay in pole position and to please a wider range of Barça’s socios (members) who might have disliked him in the past.
With the staggering support he already has, it might look as though he’s already got the job done. But those signs can be misleading in Barça’s elections as he well knows, when he came from behind to beat Luís Bassat in 2003 despite Bassat handing in over 4,000 signatures more than him.
Víctor Font – Modernising the club
Submitted signatures: 4,710
Approved signatures: 4,431
Víctor Font is Laporta’s main obstacle in these elections, although this sentence also applies the other way round, given that Font originally announced he would be running for president in 2018, long before anyone else.
His original idea was to take part in the 2016 elections until they were brought forward to 2015 when he decided not to rush things and take his time to keep working on his project.
His two main slogans are ‘Sí al Futur’ (Yes to the Future) and ‘Foc Nou i Bon Govern’ (New Spark and Good Governance), both reflecting Font’s idea of fully adapting the club to the 21st century.
He plans on doing this in a variety of ways. First, he wants to involve Barça’s socios a lot more in the club’s decision-making, not just get them to vote in a president every six years (a timeframe he would change to four). In fact, in 2019 he got enough members to support his proposal of implementing electronic voting but his motion did not get enough backing at the club’s AGM. With the current pandemic threatening the elections, it would have come in handy.
Font is also taking a little step forward in favour of gender equality, having selected five women to be part of his board. This would be a club record.
Another main pillar of Font’s “revolution” is the sporting structure in which the board interferes less in those decisions related to football. This is where Xavi Hernández would have a primary role as general manager, supported by talented ex-footballers who know the club well such as Jordi Cruyff or Tito Blanco, among others.
To use a Cruyff reference, he’s built a ‘dream team’ with very likeable and popular names within the Barcelona family, but that might not be enough to overcome Laporta’s charm.
Toni Freixa – Loyal to Barça
Submitted signatures: 2,821
Approved signatures: 2,634
Toni Freixa is the third and final candidate in the 2021 elections. For now, he’s the one with the least support, but also with nothing to lose.
That said, he isn’t off to a great start as an official candidate. Emili Rousaud, who had handed in 2,534 signatures, decided to withdraw hours before the final count was confirmed in a press conference in which he said he had a last-minute agreement to unite with Freixa’s team, but after thinking it through he decided to reject the offer. Shortly after, Freixa denied this pact ever existed, while Rousaud insisted he had WhatsApp messages to prove it. None of this drama has helped Freixa prove that he is a trustworthy candidate.
Freixa is also considered to be the ‘continuist’ option, with the most similar ideals to those shown by Josep María Bartomeu and Sandro Rosell, among the three remaining candidates. He didn’t support the vote of no-confidence and has never been too critical of Barça’s last few years under Bartomeu.
He tries to remain neutral and distance himself from those connections, although he was on the board under both Bartomeu and Rosell. Freixa was also part of Laporta’s team from 2003 to 2005, but resigned due to tensions within the board and the relationship crumbled to pieces.
All in all, he’s been involved with Barcelona for more than a decade, knowing the club extremely well and extending his connections in the world of football. That might well be the reason for his campaign slogan: ‘Fidels al Barça’ (Loyal to Barça).
For now, he has revealed that the ex-Barça player Lluís Carreras would be his director of football, and that there would be a special focus on developing ‘La Masía’ talent. He also wants Ronald Koeman to continue as his manager and see out his contract at the club.
Freixa’s chances of winning are slim, but given Rousaud is out of the picture, he will hope to convince many of the 25,823 voters that supported Bartomeu in 2015 to help him follow in those very same footsteps.