It is January 25, 1939. You reside in what is left of Barcelona. The Spanish Civil War has raged for several years. At night, the bombs fall. Franco’s forces have surrounded and strangled your beloved city, Within, moral and societal decay have gripped the institutions you loved. At first, democracy was the war cry. Viva la Republica! Then, the anarchists arose and spoke of the need to collectivize, collectivize, collectivize. Then, the Stalinists sprang up and called for nationalization. The summary executions of suspected Franco sympathizers made you feel uneasy. Now, the anarchists and Stalinists shoot one another in broad daylight. Food and water have disappeared. Retreating Republic forces burn warehouses & offices before fleeing to France. When Franco’s forces arrive the next day, chills run up and down your spine. To your astonishment, people take to the streets and cheer and applaud and wave and welcome their arrival. You weep quietly.
It is April 26, 2012. You are Pep Guardiola. You are the coach of FC Barcelona, a team that has won three La Liga titles and two Champions League trophies in the last four years. Some injuries and bad luck derailed the current season, but plenty of talent lines the roster. The city adores your team, your players love you, and the best goalscoring machine in the world wears the Azulgrana #10. However, for the last few years, battles have raged behind the scenes. The President that hired you, Joan Laporta, has been sued by the current President Sandro Rossell for accounting irregularities. The same Sandro Rosell that sat at the Board of Directors for Barcelona but resigned in 2005 due to Laporta’s “authoritarian tendencies.” Rather than settling, the case went to trial. In sum, your current boss is running your ex-boss (who hired you) through the accounting grinder, even though hidden debt in Spain is as ubiquitous as sangria. At least Laporta took care of the tax man, unlike Atletico de Madrid. Your hair turns grey, then disappears. The next day, you announce your retirement.
The world asks: why? Sport offers scant explanation. Politics, though, soil the enterprise.
Historians often ask: does a great society collapse from an external threat, or internal decay? Oftentimes, it’s both. For over a century, Barcelona the city and Barcelona the club have served as a formidable counterweight to the hegemony of Madrid. Yet we should never forget that divisions exist within Catalunya. Is there any explanation other than bitterness for why Sandro Rosell stripped Johan Cruyff of his honorary Presidency and then, later, asked him to please take it back? How can a member of a Board of Directors call a President “authoritarian”? Aren’t boards normally little more than rubber stamps that get nice quarterly travel vouchers? And don’t Presidents get elected to make executive decisions? None of these questions have simple yes or no answers, but they can make your head spin. Especially when all you want to do is win soccer games.
Nobody can pick open Pep’s brain and pinpoint why he left. However, internal strengths often overcome external threats. Sadly, the inverse is true. With Real Madrid rising, Guardiola only had to look at his boss to make up his mind. At least there’s a vacancy for Honorary President of FC Barcelona.
— Elliott Turner
EDITOR’S NOTE: Elliott is currently Kickstartering for his new ebook on the Barca/Madrid rivalry. Support him here.
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