The four men vying to be elected president of Football Club Barcelona debated one another on Catalan television Tuesday night. With the pristine pitch of the Camp Nou as a backdrop, Josep Maria Bartomeu, Joan Laporta, Agusti Benedito and Toni Freixa took part in a heated discussion about the future and direction of the club that was moderated by journalist Bernat Soler.
The election comes at a time when the La Liga champions could be seen as being at something of a crossroads. On the one hand, Barça has just had one of the most successful seasons in its 116-year history. On the other, administrative and executive decisions in the past few years have seen the Catalan club moving away from its stated doctrine of being mas que un club toward becoming more like any other top club.
While no one can dispute Barça’s success last season, the candidates hotly debated the lingering scandal from the shady Neymar deal and the club’s loss of institutional influence. Also at issue was the club’s move away from relying on homegrown talent towards buying players, with Freixa pointing out that “The Galactico model is not [Barca’s], and Laporte accusing incumbent president Bartomeu of having a model that “is close to (Real Madrid president) Fiorentino Perez’s,” while claiming his was one “based on La Masia.”
It’s true that Pep Guardiola’s treble-winning team of six years ago was driven mainly by products of Barça’s famed La Masia academy. Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Sergio Busquets, Pedro Rodriguez, Gerard Pique and Victor Valdez were all homegrown talents. By contrast, Luis Enrique’s treble winning side this season past, while still centered around Messi, was more reliant on big money purchases like Neymar, Luis Suarez, and Ivan Rakitic.
Meanwhile, homegrown talents like Pedro, and the promising Munir El Haddadi have seen themselves shuffled to one side to make way for new signings. Spanish sporting daily AS reported that Barcelona have financial losses in excess of 240 million euros in the past five years, around 80 million more than Real Madrid, whose losses over the same period total 164 million euros.
Also at issue is the club’s kit sponsorship deal with Qatari Airways and the Qatar Foundation. While financially lucrative, the club’s association with the Emirate state has come under fire due to allegations that Qatar maintains ties to groups like ISIS and Hamas. But even beyond that, Qatar is the first sponsor to appear on the front of Barcelona’s iconic Blaugrana jerseys. For years the club refused to sell that coveted advertising space and instead donated it to UNICEF. Laporta has promised to restore UNICEF to the front of the jersey.
Finally, one area that all four candidates were in agreement over was not to exercise the option to return new signing Arda Turan to Atletico Madrid.
The presidential elections will take place Saturday, July 18. Barcelona begins its La Liga title defense on August 23 away against Athletic Bilbao.