It has been a tough year for Josep Maria Bartomeu, the former FC Barcelona’s president who had fought in all fronts to save the club and his job, lost the battle when many thought he’s won it.
On the eve of Wednesday, Bartomeu announced his resignation as Barcelona’s President following months of crisis in and outside the club’s field of play.
“Today I have announced my resignation and that of the rest of the FC Barcelona Board of Directors. Here I explain my reasons and briefly look back at these years in charge. I am proud to have served the club. Visca el Barca,” Bartomeu said in his statement.
The decision has come following the vote of no confidence by club members. The past season was full of inconsistencies and failures that stir questions over the president and the Board of Directors’ ability to continue running the club.
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Barcelona was left reeling on the mercy of players. The club had asked players for a 70 percent wage cut as it couldn’t pay staff‘s salaries, a situation that has lingered over the months.
There were Champions League woes dating back to three seasons, with the notorious humiliating 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich last season. That’s after the domestic league loss to rivals Real Madrid, as a result of Barcelona’s complacency.
These series of failures compounded the already strained relationship between Bartomeu and Lionel Messi, that at the end of the season, the Argentine astro sent a burofax announcing his decision to leave the club.
Messi has repeatedly criticized Bartomeu and his Board of Directors over what he called ‘mismanagement’ of the club, which has resulted in many of the failures, including the inability of the club to pay salaries and lack of sports projects.
“And the truth is that there has been no project or anything for a long time, they juggle and cover holes as things go by,” Messi said in a tell-it-all interview with Goal.
As the six time Ballon Do’r winner announced his decision to leave his childhood club, it drew unprecedented reaction around the world, but especially from members of FC Barcelona and fans. The storm it ignited propelled the push for vote of no confidence on Bartomeu and his board.
The failures could no longer be tolerated, they have crossed the line and the club is on the verge of losing its most valuable asset – Messi.
Against this backdrop, Bartomeu tried to effect some changes to appease the club and fans. Some players were let go, including Luis Suarez, Barcelona’s top nine and Messi’s close friend. A new coach, Andy Koeman, was hired to steer the club to success. But the problem is more of a fundamental issue than it is a transfer market thing.
In the past, the club’s attempts to address the inconsistencies had focused on coaches. In 2020, the club had to fire and hired three coaches, including Ernesto Valverde who was sacked in the middle of the season, an action which was considered unbecoming of Barcelona’s modus operandi.
However, the moves by Bartomeu and his board failed to calm the dust that erupted following the happenings from six years ago when he was elected Barcelona’s president. There were good times though, Barcelona won the Champions League once, and the domestic league four times during his presidency. But the good times didn’t last long enough to uphold Barcelona’s philosophy and make the club faithfuls happy.
In the wake of the troubles, Messi revealed the bane of his happiness and why he wanted to seek a career elsewhere.
“But I looked further afield and I want to compete at the highest level, win titles, and compete in the Champions League. You can win or lose in it, because it is very difficult, but you have to compete. At least compete for it and let us not fall apart in Rome, Liverpool, Lisbon. All that led me to think about that decision that I wanted to carry out,” he told Goal.
Former Barcelona president Joan Laporta, who has been a fierce critic of Bartomeu and his board, along with majority of club members and fans have taken Messi’s side. The Barcelona philosophy is waning; there is no project, no young players to fill gaps and no planning for the future.
When Barcelona fans took to the streets, in the wake of the crisis, to protest against Bartomeu and his Board of Directors, the Barcelona President knew it’s no longer business as usual.
There had been some occasions in the past, for example in 2017, when the fans campaigned for his resignation, trending the hashtag, #BartomeuDimiteYa. But it ended on Twitter and didn’t make it to the streets. So when the fans defied coronavirus and hit the streets, Bartomeu knew his time as Barca President was up.
“The easiest thing after the Champions was to resign, but it was necessary to take decisions in an unprecedented global crisis. We could not leave the club in the hands of an interim board,” Bartomeu explained why he didn’t resign immediately at the end of the season.
“… Who would have ensured Messi stayed? Who would have hired a new coach? Who would have agreed salary drops for the squad? I could not let the club be run by external figures on a temporary basis.”
On the other hand, he was hoping that COVID-19 would buy him more time as club members pushed for a vote of no confidence. When the local government gave the green light to commence the process of voting, Bartomeu knew he had played his last card. Though he said he is resigning because he doesn’t want the people to gather at Camp Nou in the name of voting, and expose themselves to COVID-19, it was more of fear of the humiliating outcome.
The decision before everyone was to choose between Messi and Bartomeu, and the message was clear from the fans and club members. In an unprecedented manner, they made their choice, choosing Messi over Bartomeu. Adding to his tremendous records, Messi thus, became the first player to wield such influential power to kick a club’s president out.
On his way out, Bartomeu announced that the board have “approved the acceptance of requirements” to join European Super League (along with other major clubs), a development La Liga president, Javier Tebas said it has added to the many errors he made as Barcelona President.
In the immediate future, an independent administrator will oversee the club and organize elections.