With questions swirling and an investigation launched regarding the legitimacy of FC Barcelona's acquisition of Neymar from Santos this past summer, Barca president Sandro Rosell has decided to step down from his post at Camp Nou, according to ESPN FC:
BREAKING: Sandro Rosell is stepping down as president of Barcelona due to the investigation over the signing of Neymar— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) January 23, 2014
Rosell talked about his decision to leave, via Barcelona and AS:
Rosell: "It's been a privilege to be president of Barcelona "— AS English (@English_AS) January 23, 2014
The club also confirmed that Josep Maria Bartomeu will take over as president:
Rosell announces that vice-president Josep Maria Bartomeu will assume the presidency of the Club until 2016. #FCBLive— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) January 23, 2014
The club confirmed that former youth director Jordi Mestre will replace him as sporting vice president:
Bartomeu announces that the Board have named Jordi Mestre as sporting vice-president #fcblive— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) January 24, 2014
Neymar joined Barcelona prior to the 2013-14 season to great fanfare, but the allocation of the €57.1 million transfer fee has become a hot-button issue. Per Adrian Boullosa and Ben Hayward of Goal.com, Brazilian club Santos received just €17.1 million while the remainder of the payment went to N&N, which is a company owned by Neymar and his father.
In addition to that, Barca have been accused of hiding additional funds that were paid in exchange for Neymar. According to Alec Fenn of Goal.com, Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported that Barcelona actually paid €95 million, but Rosell vehemently denied it:
I will say it again. Neymar cost €57.1 million and there's not more to it. That's the umpteenth time I've said it. I would also like to make a request to the judge, with all my respect, to accept the dispute and to call me to declare. This means I will not have to skip the confidentiality clause we have in this transfer and as is always the case at Barca, it's a clause that was requested by another party, not by us. There's nothing to hide.
Despite Rosell's stance on the matter, he ultimately made the decision to step down. Guillem Balague of Sky Sports first reported on Jan. 23 that the Barcelona board held a meeting in order to consider Rosell's future with the club:
5pm UK 2day, extraordinary meeting of FCB board. On agenda:Rosell thinking of resigning due to the 'Neymar case'. Directors want him 2 go on— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) January 23, 2014
The Neymar case first came into existence due to a complaint from Barcelona socio Jordi Cases, according to Boullosa and Hayward. Although Barca have submitted paperwork for Neymar's contract to a judge and prosecutors, there remains a belief that Barcelona broke FIFA rules within their dealings.
Boullosa and Hayward are also reporting that Rosell could serve between one and eight years in prison if he is found guilty of misappropriating funds.
Despite that, Barcelona have maintained that they did nothing illegal. Tom Conn of Inside Spanish Football is reporting that Barca spokesman Toni Freixa admitted to Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia that the club should have been more transparent, but he denied wrongdoing:
It was a huge mistake to not clearly explain where the €57 million went. Our biggest mistake was to present a player that cost €57 million and not say clearly where the money was going. It's strange to not say where the money is going. The decision of the judge, as he indicated, is that we didn't give him any comparisons, which is because if we didn't feel we didn't do anything wrong, we have no defense. We don’t feel like Rosell did anything wrong.
Now that Rosell is out of the picture, the focus shifts squarely to the investigation. Some might view Rosell's resignation as an admission of guilt, but the court obviously must have proper evidence before levying any type of punishment.
It's difficult to speculate on how Barca might get punished since this type of situation is unprecedented in terms of size and scope. Substantial fines are a near certainty if the club is found guilty, but the possibility of voiding Neymar's transfer to Barcelona is something that will undoubtedly have Blaugrana supporters nervous.
Barcelona have dominated La Liga this season and currently find themselves in first place. Neymar, of course, has been a big part of that with six goals and eight assists. There is no question that his club future is very much in flux.
The balance of power at Barcelona will also experience a seismic shift with Rosell out of the picture. Someone will eventually have to ascend to the president post, but that may remain on hold until the court makes a decision regarding the Neymar scandal.
Barcelona have been one of the steadiest and most reliable football clubs in the world for a very long time, but that is now being put to the test. One thing that is certain, though, is that Rosell is no longer in the picture.
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