There are massive changes coming at the very top level of FC Barcelona.
President Josep Bartomeu and the board have resigned with immediate effect, on the eve of the club's Champions League group stage match vs. Juventus, bringing an end to the ongoing strife and crisis at Camp Nou.
Bartomeu, who spoke for over 30 minutes in the resignation announcement, and the board were facing a vote of censure after 20,000 of the club's members signed a petition to enact a vote of no confidence. The timing of that vote was put in the balance on Monday, with the coronavirus resurgence in Spain resulting in a state of emergency that would have made it unsafe for all of the workers and 110,000 entitled members to take part. Even so, a motion from Bartomeu to delay that vote was not approved, but now, that vote is unnecessary. The socios have their wish, and an interim board will take over as the club braces for an election and new permanent leadership.
Bartomeu, who has been Barcelona president since 2014 and just a day ago said he would not be stepping down, has come under fire for the club's recent underachievement in Europe and for its wayward transfer strategy, among other reasons. Lionel Messi, who has become increasingly more critical of the club's leadership, took personal aim at Bartomeu over the summer saga that nearly resulted in his departure from the only club he's ever known as a professional. That saga came following the 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals, a loss that resulted in the firing of manager Quique Setien and sporting director Eric Abidal.
Messi claimed that Bartomeu had broken on his word to allow the Argentine legend to leave the club last summer. Messi had a clause in his contract that would have allowed him to leave for free, but it expired in June, and with the pandemic postponing the completion of Barcelona's season until later in the summer, an ugly and public battle ensued. Messi, whose contract expires at the end of this season, reluctantly returned to Barcelona at the beginning of September, saying he didn't want to take the club that he loves to court. It's unclear what Bartomeu's departure means for his future. Bartomeu had always maintained that it was his goal for Messi to play his entire career at Barcelona; by leaving, he may yet make that a possibility.
To call Bartomeu's entire term a failure would be overly harsh, given what the club has achieved in his time at the helm. It's won four La Liga titles, four Copa del Rey titles, two Spanish Super Cups, one FIFA Club World Cup, one UEFA Super Cup and one Champions League title in that six-year reign. The one Champions League is glaring, though, considering the expectation and expenditure, along with having one of the world's generational talents in Messi that whole time.
Barcelona suffered some spectacular Champions League collapses along the way, blowing three-goal advantages against Roma and Liverpool prior to the humiliation at the hands of Bayern, which secured the club's first season without a single trophy since 2007-2008. It was during that match that one of Barcelona's most criticized transfers in recent years, Philippe Coutinho, scored two goals for Bayern, where he had been on loan from Barça.
Before leaving, Bartomeu dropped a couple of major news items, saying that the Barcelona board approved the club's participation in a new, proposed European Super League and also the format of the new FIFA Club World Cup. If a Super League should come to fruition (and it does not appear to be anywhere near the final stages), it would require the approval of Barcelona's members to secure its involvement. Bartomeu claimed being part of it would secure the club's financial future. It's financial present has been put in jeopardy, in part due to the pandemic but also due to the stewardship of the club under it's now-ex-leadership.
"I can announce some extraordinary news," Bartomeu said. "Yesterday, the board of directors approved the acceptance of the requirements to participate in a future European Super League of football clubs, a project promoted by the big clubs in Europe, which would guarantee the future financial sustainability of the club.
"We can say with pride that we are the best club in the world in terms of value. We have achieved that ahead of clubs owned by States and billionaires, keeping the club in the hands of the members. The European Super League guarantees the club will remain in the members' hands."
The revelation sparked a strong reaction from La Liga president Javier Tebas, who tweeted his anger in Bartomeu's direction.
“Unfortunate Josep Bartomeu announcing on his last day the participation in a phantom competition that would ruin (Barcelona) and reiterating his ignorance about the football industry,” Tebas wrote. “A sad end for a president who did many things right but that lately made many mistakes.”