As the world welcomes 2021, there is only one thing on the minds of Barcelona fans — the presidential elections on January 24th. The same has been weighing up on the minds of Barcelona fans since Josep Bartomeu was forced to resign nearly six months before his tenure called time.
The Barcelona elections of 2021 promises a lot on several ends. The candidates are quite diverse, manifesting a lot of different things, ranging from player signings, to managerial roles, and even the medics they are going to bring. Leading this race are two men – Victor Font and Joan Laporta, with their projects Si Al Futur (Yes to the future), and Estimem el Barça (We love Barça) respectively.
We at Barça Universal had the honour to interview Mr. Font through an online conversation where he talked about a plethora of topics, ranging from the problems at the club, Ronald Koeman, Xavi, Josep Bartomeu, Lionel Messi, among much more.
Below, you can find the full video footage, as well as the in-text version of the interview.
What are your thought on Barcelona’s season so far?
“It has been a rollercoaster. The end of last season was extremely disappointing, and the whole difficult summer which the fans had to go through, with regards to the Messi affair.”
Victor Font does, however, say, that the season started with a pinch of hope after the performance against Villarreal and Celta Vigo: “We saw young players performing very well. Not only Ansu, who had done it last season, but also Pedri, who at some point everyone thought would be sent out on loan.”
Font switches gears to Ronald Koeman for trusting youngsters in his team since the start of his tenure, saying, “It was good to see Ronald Koeman betting on these players, and the team reconnected, becoming competitive again.” Font continues in sharp contrast to this, saying, “But unfortunately — and it is normal, in the start, people need time — the problem is that the club has a lot of instability. The problem is also is that when you put a coach in the middle of a broken project — because there has not been a project for many months — it is even more challenging and difficult.”
What do you see as the biggest problems at the club?
Font goes through all problems surrounding Barcelona, starting from the lack of project: “Lack of a project, and leadership. Lack of new ideas that are required to compete in the 21st century.”
Font moves to talk about how the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to this: “This pandemic has opened the eyes many people. We need to reinvent ourselves. The club has missed proper leadership and proper vision for a long time now, and that impacts the different areas of the club. The lack of a sports project effects the team, the level of competitiveness, and obviously the economic situation. We made huge investments that have not generated any returns.”
His statement takes a very interesting turn as he speaks about the ‘Barto-gate’ scandal, when Josep Bartomeu paid media outlets to target some senior members of the dressing room: “We have had institutional problems, like the ‘Barto-gate’. He used money from us (the members) to go against some people in the club. That created a lot of instability.”
Can you summarise your project ‘Si Al Futur’?
Font’s project has received huge acclaim from several fans around the globe, and when asked to summarise it, he calls it a well-thought-out project, saying, “It has been in the making for years. This is the only way that projects can be successful, when they are properly thought, and when you spend time thinking who is part of it.”
Font goes on to say that everyone in life has a project, with their families, dreams, passions, and professions. He says that everything ends up relying upon the people who are part of it and that people make projects successful. After this, he starts listing some intricate details of the project:
“In the 21st century, we need to bring the club in the 21st century. Listen more to the members. Make them even decide some issues that affect the symbolicalness of the club. If we want to change the name of the stadium, or a facility, why should it be decided by the board itself, and not by members Why can’t we ask Nike to give us three options for the home kit, and we decide.”
He continues on the same beat of the drum, pin-boarding some interesting thoughts as he goes along: “This is the beauty of a club owned by 150,000 people. We should not be asked our opinion once every 6 years. We should be asked to participate more often, and make sure the board listens. This also means changing the governance of the club. We have assemblies which are not representatives of the members. They are executed poorly by whoever is on the board.”
Font lists some specific details of his project next, saying, “We want to reduce the mandates (max-term of a Barcelona president) from six years to four years. We want to remove ban guarantees so that any member who has the right experience can join the board. We want to instil a very innovative business model that will allow us to monetise millions of fans around the world.
“We will also do proper management of expenses to generate excess funds and be able to renew out stadiums, put more money into the sports teams, and most importantly, that we protect the ownership structure.”
Font explains what he means by the ownership structure, saying, “We want to make sure women in our society, and Barcelona take up relevant positions in the club. Not only in our project, but also the board, and in the executive duties.”
“It is a set of new duties, but the most important thing is that they are being implemented by the ones who know the most about each area of the club. We want sports decisions to be taken by those who know most about each sport, the business decisions to be taken by the best-possible executives in the world, and a board that has the right experience to supervise it all. Time to start afresh; time for a new beginning.”
Why did you choose Xavi as the head coach of your project?
“When we started working a few years ago, one of the first things we did was get to know the key assets at Barcelona — former players, board members, executives — to understand who could take up which role in this ambitious project. In the sports side, and football, we got to know several legends, and we concluded that Xavi is a very unique person.
“Someone who can take different roles outside the pitch; I am sure he is going to be the best coach in the world. But beyond that, he can take different leadership roles.”
He backs up this statement saying, “Xavi is good at managing and assembling teams, he communicates well, and can get a team to perform. He also says that Xavi knows the club ‘inside out’. We cannot afford what happened with Pep to happen to Xavi. We need to create the right environment so that he ends up staying for a long time. “
How long do you foresee the reconstruction to take?
Barcelona are in a grave situation on all ends, and rebuilding the club inside out will definitely take time. According to Font himself, however:
“Our ambition is that if we are elected, stability will come immediately after that. With the right changes, leadership, and vision, I am sure that we will become competitive again. Hopefully winning many more Champions Leagues in the years to come.”
He says that it is possible because, “We have the talent, the best footballer (Messi) is still with us today, and we still have a lot of other talented players.”
Have you had the opportunity to speak with Messi yet?
“No, but he obviously knows what’s cooking. As a huge Barça fan, he knows who has a project, who has which ideas; I am sure he reads the press, probably listens and reads your (Barça Universal) channels. The tension is that the sports organisation we build would like to retain the best player in the world.”
One important factor which will immediately judge the tenure of the next president is if they convince Lionel Messi to extend his stay with Barcelona. Font continues on the same beat of the drum, praising Messi, saying:
“He is the best player in the history of the sport. He has taken very good care of himself throughout his career, he has not had any serious injuries. I am sure he can still play, maybe even adapt his role on the pitch for a few years. We want to retain that talent. And even later on, when he retires, the association (Messi – Barça) prevails for many many years.”
Would you have sacked Ernesto Valverde in January?
“This allows me to stress one of the changes we want to implement, which is that this type of decision should not be made by a football fan like myself, but by the sports organisation, which has the right vision, expertise and talent. They should be empowered to make such calls.”
He also adds that as president he would have to validate the decision, but the important part is that these decisions should be made by someone who understands the ins and outs of it perfectly.
Do you believe that certain signings under Bartomeu were not made for sporting reasons?
“I think it is not just an opinion anymore, it is a fact. It was even explained as such by people within the club. The exchange of Neto and Jasper Cillessen was driven because of the same reasons. That is why we need to change the rules of the game, we need to remove the ban guarantees so that they do not become threats from the board and make sure that the board is not incentivised to make decisions that are not best for the club.”
What is your plan on reviving the club’s financial health?
It is barely a surprise that Barcelona, as a football club, are in a grave financial situation, and Font agrees to it:
“Our plan as two faces — the relevant short, restructuring plan, and build a foundation for a longer-term plan. We need to restructure the cost structure of the club, and we need to refinance its balance sheets because there is a debt of €400/500 million, which we will not be able to take care of this summer.”
“In parallel, we need to monetize the millions of fans we have around the world so that we can serve people providing the right product and services because we are eager to consume Barça services. By doing that we will be helping the club to keep its independence and remain strong and make sure we can take care of future projects without the need of increasing debt or putting our morales at risk.”
Why is La Masia struggling nowadays? What is its importance?
“The lack of a project with the right vision has created these problems,” Font says. Additionally, he talks about Eric Garcia as a statement example in this, saying, “Players like Eric Garcia, now the club wants him to come back, which is great news, but he should have been retained. He left just because he did not believe in the future of opportunities within Barça. Pep Guardiola came and sold him the idea of a bright future at Manchester City, he believed him, and that’s what we need.”
He says that “Betting on La Masia is absolutely vital for Barcelona because of three reasons: 1. youngsters are trained around our style, 2. the club saves a lot of money, and 3. these are Barça fans, so their level of commitment is greater than any signing from outside.”
Could we see former players return to the club as board members/staff?
“Yeah, obviously. That is what we have been trying to understand, the talent we have within the club. Some of these are legends, and I was shaking when I met them for the first time (laughs). But, that is the type of investment that one needs to make — spend time, get to know what sits behind the name of a legend, and understand the type of capabilities everyone has. Then you try to build a proper structure, and then you try and convince them to take the type of responsibilities that you think they can take.”
Do you see Barcelona winning a title at the end of this season?
“Always. We need to be optimists. I am one myself. As I said before, the good news is that at the end of January, the new beginning starts, and at that point in time, we will not have played against PSG in the Champions league, and we will, for sure, still be alive in the La Liga, and hopefully in a better position than today. And the cup is also up for grabs. So I think with the right stability and leadership, we have chances.”
Your final words?
Victor Font bid farewell to the interview and us at Barça Universal by saying “If there are any members listening to us, the upcoming elections are the most important ones in the history of the club. If you are members, it is important that this information reaches you, because the future of the club is in the hands of the members. so hopefully everyone understands that the future depends on new ideas, new people, new beginnings. The future is bright, but we need to decide well.”