The Barcelona presidential elections, explained

It’s election season at FC Barcelona. On July 18, tens of thousands of Barça fans will hit the ballot box to choose their fearless leader. Will it be the quiet incumbent or the charismatic challenger? Well, duh. Because let’s face it, no one else has a chance.

Background

Barcelona is one of the handful of clubs (along with Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, and Osasuna) where the fans vote for the president. But not just any Barcelona fan can vote. You have to be a paying socio, or member.

According to our good friend Wikipedia, Barca currently has 144, 756 socios, although only 109,637 are over 18 and can thus vote. Any socio can run for president, as long as s/he manages to get 2,534 others to sign a petition endorsing the candidacy – and come up with roughly 76.3 million euros. This money is what’s famously known as the aval. It’s basically collateral that the club takes in order to protect itself from any losses. For example, if the club loses money in a fiscal year, then the president and his board members would have to use the aval to make up for the losses. If the club doesn’t lose money, they get it back when they leave.

This aval thing stems from a federal law passed back in 1990: any president (along with the board) of a sporting club with this member model had to have at least 15 percent of the club’s annual budget. It was designed to prevent someone from coming into the presidency and plundering the club. Back in 1990, however, the budgets of clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona were teeny-tiny compared to now. Barça’s annual budget is roughly 520 million euros.

Let’s get to the fun part. Ever since Florentino Pérez famously won the elections for the Real Madrid presidency in 2000 by promising to bring Luis Figo to the club, it’s become fashionable for candidates to make all manner of extravagant promises. Back in 2003, Joan Laporta won the Barça presidency by promising that he had a deal in place to bring David Beckham to the club. Beckham, in fact, had a deal in place with Real Madrid. Barcelona then signed Ronaldinho instead and the rest, as they say, is history.

FC Barcelona president Joan Laporta congratulates RonaldinhoGetty Images

FC Barcelona president Joan Laporta congratulates Ronaldinho

The Contenders

Josep Maria Bartomeu

5’8”. 143 lbs. Nerdy Glasses.*

*height and weight are the author’s best guesses

The current president took over when Sandro Rosell resigned in 2014 amid controversies over irregularities in the Neymar transfer.

As recently as January, Bartomeu looked dead in the water. After Barça lost in Anoeta, unleashing a series of crises that ended up costing then-sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta his job, Bartomeu was forced to call elections early.

It was assumed that Bartomeu had no shot. He was, after all, indicted by a judge for committing tax fraud during the Neymar signing and could still face jail time. As the vice president of sport during Rosell’s presidency, he oversaw the illegal transfers of minors that wound up getting Barca a one-year ban from all transfers.

But then, Messi decided that he wanted to win trophies this year, and Barça won a historic treble. This has given Bartomeu new life. Will this “Bartomentum” carry him to victory? I say probably not. Mostly because his opponent in the election is none other than…

Joan Laporta

5’10”. 185 lbs. Portly. Likes to get drunk sometimes and smoke cigars and dance.

The prodigal son. Joan Laporta is BACK, BABY. Laporta was the president of Barcelona from 2003 – 2010, taking the club from one of its worst ever periods and turning it into the greatest team of all time. First he righted the ship after the disastrous presidency of Joan Gaspart. He took a huge gamble on Frank Rijkaard, whose only significant previous achievement was that he managed to relegate Sparta Rotterdam for the first time. Laporta also brought in Ronaldinho, who was pivotal in shifting the balance of power in Spain away from Real Madrid. He took a chance on Rijkaard on the advice of Johan Cruyff, a towering figure at Barcelona. In fact, his presence (or not) at the club will be one of the defining issues of the election, but more on that later.

The height of it all was the six-trophy season under Pep Guardiola, a year that culminated with three Barcelona youth products on the podium of the Ballon d’Or, a remarkable thing that will probably never happen again.

It wasn’t all rosy, however. The year before Lapota had narrowly escaped a humiliating vote of no confidence that would’ve ousted him from power prematurely. The fans were so frustrated with him that they actually managed to force a recall election, in which over 50 percent of voters wanted him out. Luckily for Laporta, 60 percent is necessary to oust a president in a recall election.

Laporta has a tendency to be annoying to a lot of people. He’s loud and bombastic and can rub a lot of people the wrong way. But it’s also true that his fanaticism and charisma are part of what have made him such an effective leader in the past.

He left the club in 2010 with the hopes of launching a political career that never really got off the ground. Now he wants back in. He’s brought Barça folk hero Eric Abidal with him as sporting director, which will undoubtedly be a popular move. Oh yeah, he also has the endorsement of one Pep Guardiola.

The Differences

A Barcelona fan wearing a jersey bearing the UNICEF logo, displayed on the Barcelona kit for five seasons.Matthias Hangst

A Barcelona fan wearing a jersey bearing the UNICEF logo, displayed on the Barcelona kit for five seasons.

Bartomeu is quiet, thoughtful, and polite, and has promised to run his campaign without resorting to attacks. Laporta, on the other hand, loves to be the center of attention. He’s charming, funny, provocative, and completely shameless. In his campaign kickoff speech he came out guns blazing, tying Bartomeu to the disgraced Rosell and accusing him of basically being a corrupt heartless bastard, referencing all the legal problems the club is having and the fact that he replaced the UNICEF shirt sponsorship with Qatar.

Laporta’s motto is “Cruyff, Masia, Catalunya, and UNICEF.”

Cruyff is significant. He never held an “official” role at the club under Laporta’s presidency, but he was always consulted on major decisions. Laporta is adamant that the club should never veer from the style of play that Cruyff brought in back in the early ’90s, transforming Barça from a club that rarely won anything into one that wins all the time. Cruyff hated Rosell (and by extension, Bartomeu). He rejected an offer from Rosell to be the club’s Honorary President, and refused to set foot in the Camp Nou while he was president.

La Masia refers to the youth academy, which achieved unprecedented success under Laporta with players like Víctor Valdés, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Pedro, Gerard Piqué, and of course Messi.

Catalunya is an interesting one. Laporta is an avowed Catalan independence advocate. He is very vocal about it, and he sees Barça as a political instrument to further the Catalan cause. Bartomeu claims that he while personally is a “Catalanist,” he doesn’t see the club playing an active role in politics.

Finally, UNICEF refers to the deal that Laporta cut with the organization to put its logo on the jersey. He points out the difference between it and the current sponsor is a stark one. UNICEF is a fund to help children in need. Qatar is a corrupt hellscape that enslaves people and works them til they die by the thousands.

Just two months ago it looked like Laporta would win in a landslide. The triplete evened the scales a bit. It should be a fun campaign.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JUNE 03:  Neymar (C) holds his new jersey with the FC Barcelona Vice-President Josep Maria Bartomeu (L) and FC Barcelona Sport Director Andoni Zubizarreta during the official presentation as a new player of the FC Barcelona at Camp Nou Stadium on June 3, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)Getty Images

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JUNE 03: Neymar (C) holds his new jersey with the FC Barcelona Vice-President Josep Maria Bartomeu (L) and FC Barcelona Sport Director Andoni Zubizarreta during the official presentation as a new player of the FC Barcelona at Camp Nou Stadium on June 3, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

The Fringe Guys

These are the guys that have no shot of winning. They just don’t.

Toni Freixa

This guy used to be a member of Rosell’s team. He was its head of communications, often dealing with the press. He also is a magnificent looking man. When Bartomeu took over he was marginalized AND NOW HE WANTS REVENGE.

Jordi Majó

Majó came in third back when Laporta won in 2003. He says he has Michael Laudrup in his pocket to lead his sporting project, and set Real Madrid on fire by claiming that he had been approached by someone close to Sergio Ramos to see if he was interested in joining Barça.

Agustí Benedito

He came in second to Rosell in 2010 but collected only 14 percent of the vote. Although by all accounts he left a good impression, he has no shot.

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