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Beckham caught in crossfire

Published: Friday 13 June 2003, 19.36CET
David Beckham has been caught in the battle for the FC Barcelona presidency.
Published: Friday 13 June 2003, 19.36CET

Beckham caught in crossfire

David Beckham has been caught in the battle for the FC Barcelona presidency.

By Maria Bretones Merino

Elsewhere in Europe, club presidents tend to be appointed behind closed doors, but in Spain, club presidents can be major public figures and, in clubs which are not plcs, have to be elected.

Trying times
With huge debts and no trophies to show for the three-year presidency of Joan Gaspart, FC Barcelona's 96,000 shareholders will elect a new president on Sunday, with six candidates promising to strengthen the Catalan club enough to challenge their traditional rivals, Real Madrid CF.

Lean period
Between 1978 and 2000, president José Luis Núñez brought success to Barcelona, winning the club's only European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1991/92. However, his successor, Gaspart, presided over a disastrous spell which saw five coaches - Lorenzo Serra Ferrer, Carles Rexach, Louis van Gaal, Toño de la Cruz and Radomir Antic - and numerous high-profile signings fail to stop the rot.

Six candidates
Now, the shareholders must elect his successor, and they are not short of choices with six candidates having picked up the 1,500 signatures necessary to stand for the presidency - Lluis Bassat, Joan Laporta, Jaume Lauradó, Josep Martínez-Rovira, Josep María Minguella and Jordi Majo.

Bassat case
Bassat and Laporta have emerged as favourites, but every candidate has offered promises to tempt the voters. The 61-year-old Bassat, who failed in the 2000 elections which saw Gaspart gain the presidency, has Camp Nou hero Josep Guardiola on side and has promised to lure AFC Ajax coach Ronald Koeman as the team's new trainer.

Beckham signing
However, previously unsung 40-year-old lawyer Laporta has made an even more outrageous promise, pledging to bring England captain David Beckham into the squad. Laporta has allegedly agreed a €35-€45m fee with Manchester United FC for the superstar midfield player - all of which came as news to the player himself.

Laporta plan
Beckham may well prefer the idea of a move to Madrid, but his signing would only be the centrepiece of a huge restructuring plan proposed by Laporta which, under the banner 'Barça first' would see the club adopt the Madrid method of combining homegrown talent with the best players money can buy.

Chivu chance
Jostling for position behind those candidates are four other hopefuls. The 59-year-old building magnate Llauradó has promised to deal with the club's financial problems, but has offered supporters the additional boost of acquiring Ajax's Romanian defender Cristian Chivu.

Striking promise
Martínez-Rovira, a 49-year-old management consultant, seems to believe he would be able to bring Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooij to the Camp Nou. The 52-year-old businessman Majó has just promised to "work in silence to tidy upstairs", while 61-year-old players' agent Minguella has been tempting shareholders with high-profile support from former Barça heroes Maradona, Hristo Stoitchkov and Romario.

Spartan prospects
However, a few big signings will not make the club's underlying problems go away. While the election has been billed as the one that will end one of the most unhappy spells in the club's 104-year history, there are hard times to come for the new president.

Antic out
There will be tough times ahead for current coach Antic, too, as the candidates have shown little interest in keeping him on, preferring to chase Koeman's signature. However, the Dutch coach is still under contract at the Amsterdam ArenA and Ajax will not let him go without a significant - and potentially expensive - struggle.

New challenge
All will be made clearer with the votes of the 96,000 shareholders have been counted on Sunday. The eight-day election campaign has seen plenty of promises, but the road to recovery could be long and hard.

Last updated: 17/06/03 17.45CET

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