Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Assemblies of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid: Flock of Sheep

This weekend, the Assemblies of socios of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF had their ordinary annual meeting. In each case, some important social or economic issues, which have a direct effect on the future of these clubs, were on the table. But it was also interesting to listen to the messages of the presidents of the two most important clubs of Spain, if not the World nowadays.

In the case of FC Barcelona, there were two major issues on the table: the sponsorship of Qatar Foundation and the approval of the new young stand, Fanàtics. The controversial sponsorship of Qatar Foundation has been under discussion in the blaugrana atmosphere since it was announced. The deal with the Qatari foundation is the most important in the World of football nowadays. The sponsorship started last year when Barcelona already received 15 million euros and now the socis had to decide to extend the 171 million euros deal until the year 2016. Several social platforms questioned this agreement, given the origin of this money. Qatar is an Arab emirate that is questioned by the situation of the women, the homosexuals, the rights of foreign workers or the religious freedom. The anti-Qatar platform asked for the "no" for the sponsorship based on the lack of respect on human rights in the Emirate. However, it was remarkable the strong support of Pep Guardiola on Qatar: "Qatar is the most open and democratic Islamic country that is willing to open themselves to the Western World, where the most established democracies are". Probably, someone should tell Pep Guardiola about the existence of countries like Turkey, for example, but aside this aspect, it is evident that some of the things that happen in Qatar would never be accepted in the Catalan society. Probably, it is also important to know that each country must make their own process towards freedom and democracy, which is not the perfect system, but probably the best humanity has ever found, and never forget the own particular sins of the Western society, but in one way or another, all this defense of Qatar was as excessive as ridiculous.

The reality about the sponsorship of Qatar Foundation is way more simple: money. The club consider that is necessary to generate money to keep the club on top and the Board put all the marketing and media resources to defend their position. Qatar Foundation offered the highest amount of money. As I said, it is ridiculous and excessive to claim that Qatar is what is not. It is a fact that Qatar does not respect elemental human rights, just as Nike or Adidas set factories in states where the labor norms are minimum and hire minors to elaborate the expensive sport clothes we wear in the Western World, or just as other clubs wear sponsors that set their base in tax havens, promoting harmful activities like gambling. Things must be put in the right terms: it is all about the money in a very competitive environment, so probably the discussion goes beyond Barcelona or football itself: it is the whole economic system what is under question. But things must be called by their own name. In that sense, the big majority of the socis decided to vote for the sponsorship deal with Qatar, accepting the money while looking at somewhere else and closing their nose. As sad as it sounds.

The other important issue of the blaugrana Assembly was the approval of the "youth stands" called Fanàtics. It was evident since long ago that the Camp Nou's atmosphere was like the opera. The high prices and the difficulties to have access to season tickets have as a consequence to have usual attendances of people that are not particularly young, but usual cigar smoker fans (by the way, smoking in the Camp Nou has been forbidden in this Assembly too) who did not create a noisy atmosphere to support the team. The project aim to attract 14,000 young socis to the Camp Nou in order to create a more noisy and spectacular atmosphere in the stadium.

But a report of the Catalan police denounced the existence of former members of the ultra group Boixos Nois and people with penal antecedents in the initial list. Back in 2003, the president Joan Laporta took an important and brave decision in the Spanish football, kicking out the ultras from the Camp Nou. Important, since it was an example in La Liga, assuring that the Camp Nou would be a place for the families and not for the violent people. Brave, since he put in danger his own life and the life of his family and it is important to recall that there was a conspiracy of members of Boixos Nois and security members of the club itself to threaten his life, which ended up with these radicals in jail. Now, the disgusting shadow of the Boixos Nois was flying over the Camp Nou.

The club assure that the violent ultras will not be back in the stadium. Given the polemics in the press, the club approved the new young sector in the stadium, but it does not have an initial date to be implemented, since they want to guarantee the security and expect the approval of the police. In one way or another, the club should have put more effort in this task, since nearly 200 people of the initial list had been involved in violent issues and the club should know their names at this point. The barcelonisme must keep an eye on this particular issue. The idea is good, but the club must be careful with these issues, since the violent ultras should never be accepted in the stadium.

In the Assembly of Real Madrid, the most important institutional aspect, aside the approval of the budgets, was the renewal project of the Santiago Bernabéu stadium. As we presented in a past entry, not knowing the final aspect of the project, Florentino Pérez is working to assure the economic and financial future of the club. As always in the past, from the construction of the O'Donnell stadium by the own socios of the club in the year 1912 to the initial project of the Nuevo Chamartín stadium back in the 1940s, the home of Real Madrid has always played a very important role to assure the future of the institution and, this time, it could not be different. The revolutionary project gather the construction of a mall and a hotel within a new and spectacular cover for the stadium. The initial budget assures a cost of 120 million euros in the construction, but also incomes of 200 million euros per year. This ambitious project will definitely change the shape of one of the symbols of the club.

But, at the same time, it was also important to pay attention to some messages from the presidency of the club. In this sense, there will be several interpretation about these words, but the president made a clear and strong defense of the controversial coach José Mourinho. If the club had supported their coach in several occasions, today the president of Real Madrid gave the words of their coach the level of institutional policy. It is clear that, at this point, the coach has a strong position among the madridismo, despite (or maybe thanks to) the external criticism. In the own words of the president Florentino Pérez: "We believe in this team and in the best coach of the World: José Mourinho. [...] The experience of the previous season showed the necessity of reform in the club: to give more autonomy to the figure of the coach and to add more competences to his position in the club as a sport manager that will only depend on José Ángel Sánchez (general director)". It was already clear that Florentino Pérez had given José Mourinho full powers in the sport level and gave him the head of Jorge Valdano, known for having personal issues with the coach and a different (and moderate) approach to the events of football.

At the same time, the president Pérez added: "Two seasons ago, we were not a seeded team in the Champions League and last year we reached the semifinals.  The search of the victory is one of the identity signals and we want to make the dream of the Décima (10th Champions League title) soon. Last year, if we lost the Champions League, it was not our fault". Probably, there are many ways to understand this last statement, but it suggests the approval of one of the strongest messages of José Mourinho: an external more or less recognizable enemy that prevented the triumph of Real Madrid in the semifinals of the Champions League. In a first thought, someone could say that the red card for Pepe was a fair or unfair advantage for Barcelona, but definitely the absence of the red card would not have assured an automatic pass to the final for Real Madrid, since the game was 0-0 and there was a second leg to be played in Barcelona too. As Mourinho suggested in the press conference after the match, it could be Unicef, Villar or UEFA, but there was a boycott on Real Madrid to avoid their presence in the final of Wembley. With these words, Florentino Pérez takes the words out of the conference press to make it official policy of Real Madrid with all its consequences. The club has adopted the criticism on the referees and the football institution as part of the values, as it also was suggested by the president Pérez not so long ago: "The nobility (señorío) of Real Madrid is to defend the club and Mourinho does it". Definitely, the president Pérez has done a good work adapting the traditional values to the club to a new context, even if this change is a contradiction by itself. If señorío means elegance, education and behavior as quality of a noble sir, it does not look like José Mourinho and its flaming messages fit very well in the definition.

As conclussion, in both cases, the Assemblies of Barcelona and Real Madrid acted as usual, like a flock of sheep. The blaugranas got carried by the message of fear sent by Rossell's terror campaign of losing territory against the rivals, throwing the clean shirt (or Unicef shirt) and the defense of democracy and freedom to the garbage for lots of Qatari millions. And in the club of Chamartín, the president and the socios of Real Madrid sold their soul to the devil José Mourinho, considering that he is the only one that can finish with the dominance of Guardiola's Barcelona on the pitch. In this case, the madridistas threw their señorío to the garbage (whatever the new marketing message says) and accepted that the end justify the means. In both cases, a flock of sheep.

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