KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Controversial Sandro Rosell has resigned as Barcelona president after an emergency board meeting.
The 49-year-old former ISL Spain and Nike marketing executive had come under fire from a small but vocal minority of members for a string of issues from fall-outs with old playing favourites to the ‘Qatar-isation’ of the club.
However the issue pushing Rosell over the edge concerned the fall-out from the signing of Brazilian superstar Neymar from Santos last summer and the almost daily revelations of allegations concerning hidden commissions and uncertainty over the true cost of the deal. Vice-president Josep Maria Bartomeu has taken over with the unlikely aim of completing Rosell’s mandate which is not due to expire until 2016.
At the start of the week the newspaper El Mundo claimed that Neymar deal would end up costing €97m rather than the €57m the club had claimed.
A legal complaint brought against Rosell and the club for misappropriation of funds is to go before the High Court.
The court has sequestered club documents and is also requesting paperwork concerning the transfer from world federation FIFA and from Brazilian banking and sports authorities.
For one reason or another – Rosell blamed threats to his family – this proved the last straw. His presidency had run an increasingly turbulent course under long shadows cast by Rosell’s close links with both Qatar and with Brazilian football including a friendship and contentious business link to former CBF president Ricardo Teixeira.
Speculation swept through the Spanish and Catalan media yesterday morning that events were moving fast. Barcelona then called the evening’s emergency board meeting at which, according to Rosell, he presented his “irrevocable resignation” from the position he had held since 2010. He said: “My time here is done.”
The press conference lasted barely 10 minutes and was closed by brief confirmatory remarks by Bartomeu. It was attended by Rosell’s wife Marta and his brother Sergi as well as Barcelona sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta and several other board members.
Rosell, back in the early 1990s, was a senior executive at ISL Spain, an offshoot of the now-notorious former FIFA marketing partner. After the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 he joined Nike and played a key role in securing the sportswear giant’s long-term sponsorship contract with the Brazilian football confederation.
Subsequently Rosell, after leaving Nike and launching his own marketing company, was involved with Teixeira in a string of money-making initiatives. One was the contentious Ailanto company responsible for an international match in Brasilia between Brazil and Portugal whose finances remain under investigation by the Brazilian judiciary.
Several offshore companies linked to Rosell benefited from multi-million commissions for arranging the lucrative friendly match programme of the Brazilian national team.
Teixeira fled Brazil and football administration (both CBF and FIFA) in March 2012 but the link with Rosell, by now president of Barcelona, surfaced again in connection with a company which arranged temporary residency for the Brazilian in Andorra. The permit was later rescinded by the Andorran authorities.
Meanwhile Rosell had been making his presence felt back in Catalan, Spanish, European and world football. As vice-president to Joan Laporta he brought Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho to Barcelona from Paris Saint-Germain. Laporta and Rosell later fell out and Rosell resigned from the board in 2008 only to surge back with a landslide, 61.5pc victory in the presidential elections of 2010.
Immediately Rosell made waves by deciding to withdraw an ‘honorary presidency’ from former superstar and then coach Johan Cruyff. It was the first of a string of decisions concerning favoured old players which upset fans through to the recent transfer out of the club of French defender Eric Abidal after serious illness.
Rosell claimed that the club’s debts were far more serious (€532m) than Laporta had admitted. Under his leadership the gross debt has been reduced, with significant help from the Qatar Foundation sponsorship.
For several years Rosell had enjoyed close business relations with Qatari organisations while then coach Pep Guardiola was an ambassador for the Gulf state’s 2022 World Cup bid.
The sponsorship by Qatar Foundation, now under the brand title of Qatar Airways, proved contentious in its own right. Previously Barcelona fans had been proud that the club avoided shirt-advertising. An agreement to project the UNICEF name on the players’ shirts is now being viewed as having been merely a means to ‘soften up’ fan opinion ahead of the Qatar deal.
Other attempts to generate money proved equally divisive among members. The club faces a multi-million claim from the marketing company MCM over a stalled deal to ‘brand’ the famed La Masia youth academy premises.
Further irritations included Rosell’s commercial interest in the Viagogo ticket re-sale agency as well as the sudden decision to end the system of permitting free match entry to children under seven to fall in line with suddenly-discovered health and safety laws.
Trophies and titles
On the plus side, Barcelona’s sporting record under Rosell has been nothing less than magnificent.
The football team have played with a style and verve admired and applauded all around the planet. Not only have they held on to the four-times world player of the year in Leo Messi but provided both the personnel and stylistic foundations for the Spanish national team who won the World Cup in 2010 and the European titles of 2008 and 2012.
Barcelona, under Rosell, won one Club World Cup, one Champions League, one European Supercup, two Spanish leagues, one Spanish cup and three Spanish supercups. The club’s basketball, fut-sala, handball, hockey and women’s football teams, between them, compiled a further 39 other trophies.
His long-term successor – Bartomeu will come under heavy pressure to call elections much earlier than 2016 – will find Rosell a tough act to follow in terms of titles and trophies . . . albeit without as much controversy.