Bartomeu resigned as Barcelona president on Tuesday but claimed he had agreed for club to join a European Super League; View from Spain: Barcelona head to face Juventus in turmoil while Real Madrid's comeback against Borussia Monchengladbach masks squad tension
Wednesday 28 October 2020 15:39, UK
Josep Maria Bartomeu dropped a bombshell after throwing in the towel.
That's the view from Spain following the outgoing Barcelona president's claim to have ratified the club's participation in a European Super League before he quit.
Over the course of a 30-minute statement, Bartomeu and the rest of the board of directors resigned ahead of a vote of no confidence due next month. The agreement to join the proposed European league would need to be ratified by the club's members.
"I can announce some extraordinary news," Bartomeu said. "(On Monday), the board of directors approved the requirements to participate in a future European Super League, a project promoted by the big clubs in Europe."
Last week, Sky News reported a £4.6 billion funding package had been put in place for a breakaway league, that would feature up to 18 clubs from Europe's top five leagues, and is supported by Liverpool and Manchester United.
In response, La Liga president Javier Tebas said Bartomeu's comments confirmed his "ignorance" about the football industry and described the Super League as "a weak and imaginary competition".
Tebas tweeted: "Unfortunate that Bartomeu announced on his last day the participation in a phantom competition, which would be the ruin of Barcelona, ratifying his ignorance in the football industry."
Was Bartomeu trying to deflect attention away from the turmoil at Barcelona? The presidential elections were due to be held in March, but in resigning now, he jumped before he was pushed. Some 20,000 fans signed a petition demanding that he step down.
"It's a massive story and a long time in the making," Spanish football expert Semra Hunter told Sky Sports. "If you ask many fans they will tell you this should've happened a long time ago.
"He had one last card to play, and that was to try to push back the referendum on the vote of no confidence to November 15 given the current situation in Spain with the coronavirus, but the Catalan government refused, saying it will have to take place at the Camp Nou on November 1.
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"He knew there was no way he would come out of that alive after 20,000 members had already voted against him to get him out. There was no way he was going to get out of that. He felt that if he was going to go anyway, he might as well be the one to do it instead.
"It became a matter of pride, to avoid any more humiliation than he already has. He will still go down as the least liked president at Barcelona."
Bartomeu was in no mood to exit quietly, stage left. He called the government's decision irresponsible in his speech, while thanking the club and saying he could not have resigned earlier.
He had felt growing resentment in the last year due to the club's worsening finances and the team's decline on the pitch, which came to a head with their 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals in August.
The 57-year-old had been widely criticised after forward Lionel Messi requested a transfer following the Lisbon humiliation, but Bartomeu confessed on Tuesday he had stayed on as it was the only way of keeping the Argentine at the club.
Amid the increasing financial strain and battle to keep Messi, Bartomeu explained: "After being knocked out of the Champions League, the easiest thing was to leave. The easiest thing was to resign.
"But we could not leave the club in the hands of an interim board with limited powers. Who would have found the new coach? Who would have handled transfers? Who would have fought for Leo Messi to stay? Who would have carried out the budget cuts?"
This has felt a long time coming, however. The writing was on the wall following Saturday's 3-1 home defeat to Real Madrid in El Clasico - despite Bartomeu's attempts to convince the Catalan government to scrap the censure vote due to the coronavirus pandemic. But it would not budge.
In Spain, those 'socios' who had turned their backs on the departing president woke up to headlines claiming Bartomeu had 'thrown in the towel', according to Sport.
For all the off-field issues, results on the pitch at the start of Ronald Koeman's reign have contributed to his departure. Having appointed their former player as manager in the close season, Barca have won only two of their opening five league games, including Saturday's loss to Madrid at an empty Nou Camp.
After a trophyless 2019/20 campaign, this always felt like a transitional term with Bartomeu still around. But with a referendum to oust him no longer required, Barcelona will hope the news brings to an end a tumultuous period in its long, illustrious history.
Neymar's sale to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 turned up the heat on the board, with Bartomeu immediately promising "big name signings", but Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann have all failed to live up to expectations.
Three different sporting directors have fallen short in coming up with the answers to the club's ongoing recruitment struggles. With Bartomeu walking, Messi is now likely to extend his stay beyond his current deal, which expires next summer. There will be elections in the coming weeks to designate the new executive board.
Former president Joan Laporta and Victor Font are among the frontrunners to succeed Bartomeu, but whoever is appointed would do well to strike a strong relationship with the club's talisman. Temporary president Carles Tusquets is obliged to call elections within the next three months as Barcelona move into a brave new era.
Analysis from Spanish football expert Alvaro Montero:
"Some of the presidential candidates would have Xavi as their coach. Everyone knows that the natural transition will involve him becoming head coach in the future but Ronald Koeman has a contract for two years until 2022.
"His future not only depends on who becomes president but also on his development and results. If they're good, I'm sure he could stay on as manager and Xavi would have to wait.
"Messi's future is now much more certain than Koeman's case. Messi wanted to leave last summer but now he very much has the option to stay. If Joan Laporta or Toni Freixa arrive as the new president, his relationship with the Argentine is already fantastic, so he could stay - but it all depends on the board members.
"With Bartomeu, there was no chance, but his chances to stay now - especially if Laporta is elected president - are huge."
Real Madrid made life pretty hard for themselves with their opening Champions League defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk, and while they were able to mount an unlikely late comeback to draw away to Borussia Monchengladbach on Tuesday, they remain bottom of Group B heading into their double-header with Inter Milan.
The Spanish pages highlighted Real's never-say-die attitude having scored twice in the final minutes through Karim Benzema and Casemiro - coming after Thibaut Courtois had made a vital save to deny Alassane Plea from adding to Marcus Thuram's double.
Real were staring down the barrel and had been in disarray at half-time, where a video of Benzema telling Ferland Mendy not to pass to Vinicius Jr because he was "playing against us" has gone viral, underlining the belief the club are only ever one defeat away from another crisis.
Zinedine Zidane was under immense pressure and might well have walked had his side been beaten in El Clasico, but when it comes to the Champions League, he will not panic. Real have always qualified from the group stages of the competition, and they only had one point after two fixtures last season, and still reached the last 16 with plenty to spare.
The Frenchman said: "The result shows the character in this team. We deserved to draw and I think get even more. I like the reaction and it's an important point. We played well throughout the match, but it's true that we lacked something because we didn't win. We believe in the plan and we deserved the draw."
Real were boosted by the return to fitness of Eden Hazard, who made his first appearance of the season as a substitute.
The Belgian has struggled to justify his £130m transfer since moving to the Spanish capital in the summer of 2019, but he will have to be carefully managed given the quick turnaround of fixtures. The crucial encounters with Inter Milan coming up next month will ultimately decide Real's Champions League fate.