The future direction of European champions Barcelona will be decided on Saturday when their 110,000 major shareholders vote whether to retain confidence in incumbent Josep Maria Bartomeu or a previous president, Joan Laporta.
There are two other candidates — small businessman Agusti Benediton and lawyer and former club spokesman Toni Freixa — but they are unlikely to cause an upset in an election that has become increasingly acrimonious.
Laporta was in charge from 2003-10 and has to his credit that he appointed Pep Guardiola to the coaching job in 2008 which sparked a trophy-laden spell of success but on the downside he is regarded as being financially unsound — has attacked Bartomeu and his predecessor Sandro Rosell, for standing despite facing criminal charges.
“We have two men, Mr Bartomeu and (his predecessor Sandro) Rosell, who are being pursued for corruption…if they had a minimum of decency they would not stand,” said Laporta at the press conference when he announced his decision to stand.
Rosell, a former ally of Laporta’s before the two fell out in 2005, resigned last year when investigations began into alleged misappropriation of funds in the signing of Brazilian star Neymar from Santos.
Bartomeu, who had been the vice-president, stepped up to replace Rosell but in May a court ordered him to stand trial along with the club in the Neymar case.
However, despite Laporta’s onslaught — he has also criticised Bartomeu’s more nuanced stand on Catalan independence which is in stark contrast to his fervent belief in independence — Bartomeu remains the favourite.
Barca’s on-field success following their treble of Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey last season puts Bartomeu in the box seat.
Also 52-year-old Bartomeu — who succeeded Rosell without being elected when the latter stood down — has overseen the club return its biggest ever profit of 608million euros ($650million).
The 110,000 major shareholders eligible to vote have until 1900GMT to place their vote at the Camp Nou Stadium for an election that was called a year early by Bartomeu at a time when tensions inside the club were running high because of poor relations between Barca coach Luis Enrique and star player Lionel Messi — remedied in dramatic fashion by the treble of the title, Copa del Rey and the Champions League.
Laporta, 53 and who has spent the past eight years dabbling in politics, says he wants Barca to return to the “values” of his previous term in office, with an emphasis on bringing through players from La Masia, the club’s renowned youth academy, and bringing back the Unicef logo on team shirts.
He also said that he would look to sign French international midfielder Paul Pogba from Juventus — who is also a reported target of English side Manchester City.
The result should be known a few hours after the closing of the ballot boxes. – Agence France-Presse