Wednesday 13 December 2017

Bizarre twist to Barca elections

New signing Arda Turan has become a pawn in a €34m Nou Camp power struggle

Thanks to a transfer ban and presidential election at the Camp Nou, Turan would not be able to play until January 2016 - by which time he could be long gone
Thanks to a transfer ban and presidential election at the Camp Nou, Turan would not be able to play until January 2016 - by which time he could be long gone

Sid Lowe

Barcelona bought Arda Turan from Atletico Madrid on Monday - but could sell him back again at the end of this coming week. Turan joined for €34m and was presented on Friday, complete with the club's new kit, on which the blue and crimson lines are hooped rather than the traditional vertical, and a curious 14-day money-back guarantee. Thanks to a transfer ban and presidential election at the Camp Nou, the Turkish international would not be able to play until January 2016 - by which time he could be long gone.

It will not actually happen, of course. Not unless Agusti Benedito wins the election that is being held on Saturday. Benedito, a 51-year-old with experience from two previous elections, says he would rather sign Marco Verratti from Paris Saint-Germain and that if he is elected Turan will be sent back. The transfer was set up by the outgoing board and finalised by a theoretically independent temporary committee who added the clause to enable Benedito, or whoever wins, to do just that - at a cost of €3.4m to Barcelona, 10pc of the fee.

Benedito, the third favourite, almost certainly will not win and is the only candidate who would actually return Turan, but he is not the only one furious at the deal. It has also been attacked by the other two candidates, Joan Laporta and Toni Freixa. The interim committee's role is to manage the day-to-day running of the Catalan club during elections, not to sign players, according to three of the four candidates; the fourth, the outgoing Josep Maria Bartomeu, encouraged them to complete the deal. His deal.

Asked why Barcelona had signed Turan now and not waited until after the elections, Bartomeu talked about the pressure that Atletico applied to get the deal done and the desire of the coach, Luis Enrique, to bring him to the Camp Nou. And, in a remark that broke from his normal measured tone, he said: "We're like that: if we like a player, we sign him."

Benedito described the deal as "disloyal", "irresponsible" and an "attack on the democratic spirit of the club". It called into question the neutrality and independence of the committee. Electoral periods are often full of promised signings; now, Bartomeu had actually delivered on one, without even officially being in power. It did not sit right with many. "When he was the president, he acted like a candidate; now that he is a candidate, he acts like he is the president," Benedito said.

The doubt is whether signing Turan will help Bartomeu's campaign as he probably intended: here was another act that jars with some supporters. "We're like that" is a comment that could rebound on him and this is a campaign that may hinge more on questions of identity and off-field probity than the usual staple of signings and populist promises. Turan's case has caused the elections to spark into life along familiar fault lines, bringing confrontation even more clearly to the surface.

Of seven pre-candidates, four have made the cut. Each needed to collect 2,534 signatures to stand. Jordi Farre and Jordi Majo did not get through. Nor did the revelation of the pre-campaign, Seguiment FCB - a fans' group mobilised through social media. When their signatures were analysed by the electoral committee, around 8 per cent were declared null, and they missed out by just 16. Those were not the only signatures that were not accepted: in the kind of story you couldn't make up, Johan Cruyff's support for Laporta was also not formally recorded. That leaves four men. Unlike Seguiment, who will be courted by the candidates, they are familiar faces.

Bartomeu (8,554 signatures) was never elected but instead replaced Sandro Rosell when he was forced to resign over allegations of tax evasion and corruption over the signing of Neymar. Laporta (with 4,272) was president between 2003 and 2010. Freixa (3,068) was the board's spokesman under Bartomeu. And Benedito, who gathered 3,367, was on the sporting commission for six years under Laporta.

In fact, all four men were part of the young, dynamic Laporta team that won the 2003 elections, just as the four candidates that stood in 2010 were: Benedito, Rosell, Marc Ingla, and Jaume Ferrer. Bartomeu's adviser is Jaume Masferrer, who ran Laporta's campaign in 2003 and Rosell's in 2010.

But if that sounds cosy, it is not. The relationship between Rosell and Laporta, successful president and vice-president in 2003, descended into a civil war. Freixa and Benedito have accused Bartomeu of being a front for Rosell, while Laporta described Freixa as Bartomeu's "submarine". When, during one debate, Freixa said: "I agree with Laporta," Laporta shot back: "No, you don't, because I don't agree with you on anything."

Polls suggest Laporta may be right when he said that it will be a head-to-head between him and Bartomeu. Pacts remain possible, and last night Laporta called on Benedito and Freixa to come together with him against Bartomeu.

Bartomeu has the wholehearted support of the powerful Godo group, which owns El Mundo Deportivo and La Vanguardia, and of a swathe of a largely silent, conservative core support. What's more, this has been one of the most successful seasons in the club's history, with the treble of La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League titles.

These are also atypical elections: the identities of which players each candidate would bring to the club playing a key role, with Benedito talking about Verratti, Laporta saying he can sign Paul Pogba and Bartomeu getting Turan, but the transfer ban means bombastic promises have been fewer. Another position around which campaigns cannot be built this time is that of coach. Bartomeu kept Luis Enrique and called elections in January when a sacking appeared certain; now every candidate says they will stick with him.

He is, after all, the man that won the treble - a treble that might be Bartomeu's trump card. But Laporta also won a treble in 2009 and claims to have laid the foundations for this success, too, the true architect of an edifice he says is actually being torn down.

The four men will come together just once, next week. And in that arena, Laporta is indisputably the better performer: sharper, more decisive, more charismatic. Laporta will have ammunition too. Not everyone has forgotten that elections were called in January amid a genuine crisis on and off the pitch. Bartomeu has sought to claim credit for the successes of the Rosell regime, as well as the 18 months during which he has been president, yet distance himself from the flaws of Rosell's mandate, and not always convincingly.

Barcelona have been charged with corruption, with both Rosell and Bartomeu directly accused. Fifa has banned them for openly breaking rules on youth development. The Qatar shirt sponsorship has angered many - Laporta says he will remove it - and the new shirt has defied the club's statutes to make the lines horizontal, not vertical as the founder, Joan Gamper, stipulated.

Lionel Messi publicly attacked the board, Pep Guardiola left, promises made to Eric Abidal were broken and Cruyff had his honorary presidency revoked. Laporta claims to have a "telepathic" relationship with Messi. "I don't; I call him," Bartomeu responded. Messi has not said anything and is unlikely to do so but Guardiola, Cruyff and Abidal have, with all the symbolism and power that carries, and all three are openly supporting Laporta. Abidal is Laporta's sporting director, the man Laporta will ask about Turan when the elections are over.

In the meantime, on it goes, with Turan standing in the crossfire, hoping that his Barcelona career will last beyond election fortnight.


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