specials | 2015-07-04
Grup 14 talks with Agustí Benedito
The Qatar deal, the future of Lionel Messi, economic plans, tv rights, club membership and more
As part of Grup 14’s efforts to interview all of the FC Barcelona presidential aspirants, here is a conversation with Agusti Benedito, a candidate who in most polls conducted, sits third in voter preference.
Grup 14: Tell us a bit about you: your professional life, your history with Barça and first involvement with club politics.
Agustí Benedito: In 1996, almost 20 years ago, back to my first meeting with other Barcelona fans including Joan Laporta, Albert Perrín, Rafa Yuste and Alfons Godall. We were around 20 or 25 people. I’m talking about October or November, 1996. And there we started to be a part of a group of restless Barcelona fans (who were) very critical of Núñez’s presidency.
Those were meetings with a different intention, until Núñez called elections for July, 1997. And in those first elections, we made it into the list of Ángel Fernández, who faced Núñez: we were in with Laporta, Perrín, Jordi Moix, and other fans. That was my first experience that was, let’s say, a bit different as a fan.
The following year we promoted a motion of censure against President Núñez that came to be known as l’Elefant Blau (Blue Elephant). That was voted (on) in March 7th of 1998. Then I participated in the elections of 2000 in which Gaspart faced Bassat, and Gaspart won.
And then, in 2003 I collaborated actively with the candidacy of Joan Laporta, with Rosell, Soriano, Ingla, Godall... Those were the elections of Laporta’s victory, I’m talking about June of 2003.
Since then, I was part of Laporta’s team until January, 2009, when I separated. I took my distance, in disconformity with some of their decisions. And I departed, to call it something, from that group of people in January, 2009.
In June of 2010, as you might remember, I participated as a candidate for Barcelona’s presidency and we managed to be the second most-supported candidature. And then comes this day, when we’re trying for a second time, with the will to win the presidency this time for good.
How is the signature collecting with the members going?
Well, this is a very difficult topic. It’s really hard to collect the signatures. Of course, Barcelona members don’t walk labeled, right? With a little piece of paper that says “I’m a Barça member.” That’s why it’s difficult to get in touch with so many thousands of people. In 2010 we were able to get almost 3000 signatures, and well, this time I understand it will be a bit easier: many more people know us, we’ve have five years to talk with thousands of Barcelonistas, and we’re confident that we can surpass the necessary minimum. We’ve been here for a week, maybe… It’s been a week since we started collecting and we’re really happy with how the people traffic goes, and the support we get. There’s still eight days left and, well, we’re content. I hope we can serenely surpass the minimum.
You’ve said something interesting about the difficulty of talking to the members. We’ve seen many members mention in social media that Bartomeu’s team managed to get the numbers of all members to ask for their votes, but you nor any of the other pre-candidates have had access to those numbers.
Well, actually, here we work under the effects of the Organic Law of Data Protection, which prohibits that any candidate could use the census, that’s what you call the list of members. No one can use it. It’s legally prohibited. If Bartomeu, who’s in control of the census, logically because the census is deposited in the club, is using it, he’s committing a felony.
It has been mentioned not once, but five times. And the people aren’t journalists. They are normal members, that haven’t complained yet.
You’ve said that in year 2009 you decided to quit Laporta’s team. Could you explain to us the reasons that led you to take this decision and lead a candidacy?
To be honest, with Laporta during the last years, I’ve disagreed with some of his decisions but never, maybe, none was important enough to take such a decision as to resign. In January 2009 happened what’s known here in Barcelona as the Uzbekistan case, which was Laporta’s acknowledgement that he was making business, along with a partner of the club back then, with government enterprises from Uzbekistan. And to me it seemed incompatible and unacceptable that Barça’s president, at the time he held a contractual relationship with this group as the president of Barcelona, was generating business for his own benefit.
Months later we received the confirmation, because Laporta had no other choice that to confirm in a court that, effectively, he had billed 10.5 million euros in advice for oil pipes […] from his office.
I think that’s unacceptable: there’s a clear problem of incompatibility. I understand that he must have resigned back then. Evidently, I don’t have the means to make him resign, but I did have the freedom to walk away myself, and that’s why I abandoned my responsibilities in Laporta’s team.
I wanted to ask this later on, but, comparing it with today, the Qatar thing sounds quite similar to Uzbekistan?
Those are very different cases, evidently. The Uzbekistan case, let us say, that affected me, from my point of view, in a very important way. But it affected Barça’s President, and it didn’t affect the institution. In Qatar’s case, it affects Barça itself in a radical and fundamental way, and that’s why it’s more important. The linking with a government as Qatar’s, from my point of view, is completely incompatible with the defense of the values that we understand Futbol Club Barcelona must defend.
I understand there are fans that, maybe, see this in a different way. I will try to be the President of the club within three weeks, and that’s why I’m obliged to be straightforward and transparent. And because of that I express that under my Presidency Qatar will no longer be a sponsor of the club. Beyond the permanent and constant infringement of basic human and work rights of Qatar’s population that has been denounced in all international tribunals… furthermore, I insist, such systematic infringement of fundamental rights, I think that the whole international community (this is acknowledged by the American Treasury Secretary, the German Minister of Social Affairs, by Amnesty International itself and many more entities), I think the whole world acknowledges and no one denies that ISIS is being financed by Qatar’s money, that they finance the Islamic State, that they’ve been financing the Egyptian Muslim Brothers. Last week in France we had another problems, right? So it seems to me that it’s absolutely incompatible that people who are related in such a way with Jihad terrorism are linked with Barça’s shirt. If they have the necessity to wash their own image, to prepare and strategize to enter Europe using football, fine by me. But I will keep Barça necessarily away from these kinds of governments and people. I think it’s incompatible. It’s impossible.
There were also claims backed by Ricardo Teixeira, involved in FIFA corruption scandals through the Brazilian Football Federation, that Qatar bought votes for the 2022 World Cup.
Qatar, by its financial power, it’s able to buy many, many things. Here in Barcelona, they’re buying hotels, they’ve bought airports (Heathrow), they’re acquiring many companies and societies, and some are strategic… They have a lot of money. They have bought a World Cup. Then, everyone acts how they think best. But I want to make something clear: Barcelona is not for sale. So, they can buy anything, but they won’t buy Barça.
How important are penyas to the club’s health? And seeing what happened with the Champions League final - the board gave 3000 tickets for the final to penya members, what is your opinion on the subject?
Well, those are two independent things. Penyas play a very important role for Futbol Club Barcelona, certainly not in the city itself, but they do outside of the city, in other regions of Catalonia, outside of Catalonia, in Spain, all around the world. I think that penyas are extremely necessary, very important. It’s a way to focus the fandom and, as such, we should all feel very proud that the fandom is focused in that structure of penyas. I’m a big defender of them.
Another thing is this subject of tickets. Barça statutes, modified precisely by this last board, say in an express way, very, very clearly, state that 85% of the tickets must be distributed between Barça members. When 20% of the 85% ends up finally in possession of Barça fans it’s evidently non-compliance of the statutes. It can’t be. If what’s pretended is that penya members, who are not Barça members, have access to tickets, a statutory modification must be made and then that could happen. What just happened with the Champions League final in Berlin is contrary to the statutes and, as such, is inadmissible. It can’t happen again.
Talk about the sporting project you have for the club. You’ve mentioned, in the interview you gave for L’esportiu, the name of Monchi, but something that we’ve liked very much is that you haven’t promised any signings. So, two things: first, until elections end, will there be any signing announcement from Benedito? Or if, right now, you would give us the pleasure of give us an exclusive.
Even if I wanted to please you, I couldn’t. We want to focus more in what we’re going to do, not in who is going to do it, right? I understand that other candidatures use names, or expectations of names, or the press to associate names - that has always happened in Barça’s history and in the history of elections. In our case, we have obviously talked with players, I’ve been talking with players this last few months, surrounded by players, coaches, executive talents of other areas of the club. It’s normal. I will try to preside over Barcelona in a few days and, because of that, I talk with many people.
But it seems to me that in the electoral campaign, according to me, saying names or expectations makes little sense. I disagree. I’d rather make a campaign in a different way and talk more about proposals, some of which are very important, and very important decisions must be made. And I must say another thing too: we’re under the FIFA ban, that’s why if we have any interest of looking for a name, especially an important one, it’s very difficult. During Bartomeu’s Presidency, in the last day of his Presidency, he signed Aleix Vidal, right? This Sevilla’s right back. Well, Vidal will have to stay without playing until January. If you talk about international stars, ask for the player to be four months without playing or signing a player for him to be a whole year in his original club after the signing is announced is overcomplicating things, and we end up getting into unsuitable circumstances, and we make the electoral interest prevail above the interest of the team itself, that’s how I feel. Under the FIFA ban, it’s very complicated or very difficult, and only a very clear electoral interest justifies entering in such operations.
About your sporting project, what project do you have in mind? You’ve said that you like Monchi and value the job he’s done in Sevilla. We would also like to ask you about La Masia and how do you plan to get it back on track.
Well, those are two different things. To make a quick comment on Monchi’s subject, it is true that some media in Sevilla published we were linked and that we had been talking with Monchi. People ask me, and I have to answer, I just confirmed that I’ve had conversations with him. I think he has a professional profile that could be a great asset for Barcelona. But, in the same way, I’ve been talking with people that haven’t been published in the papers. This doesn’t mean I have an agreement with Monchi. Monchi’s committed to Sevilla, he’s a great fan, they love him in Sevilla, he loves Sevilla, he has three years left on his contract and, I don’t know, I see him doing well in Sevilla, and hey, with time we’ll see if we finally have to keep talking with him or not.
The Masia subject is very important, indeed, because La Masia surely is one of the important axis that define us as a team and I’d even say that as a club, right? And, effectively, in these last years we’ve experienced an excessively severe decay in the whole matter of formative football, right? Lower categories are not doing well: Juvenil A, Juvenil B... Cadete A is doing a little better, and Cadete B a little better than that. It is imperative and necessary to recover the importance of La Masia. I think that there has been a problem in here, most certainly, of modernization, an issue in methodology in the whole academy: too many changes in politics, coach changes… I don’t know, I think there has been a lack of a common objective. For a reason we can’t understand, this board let La Masia drop, and that’s why it’s important to start taking measures.
We have already talked with Victor Font, who has decided not to run for this election, Jordi Farré and, along with Joan Laporta, the three of them have been very clear in talking of the figure of Johan Cruyff. I’d like to know what you think of Cruyff and if the club must continue to be loyal to his philosophy?
Sure, it surely has to be unquestionable. Cruyff is a very important asset of Barça. You’ve got to think that I was born in 1964, which means that when Cruyff landed in Barcelona, I was nine years old. And since that moment I became absolutely absorbed and head over heels for Cruyff, he was my childhood hero and he still is. And I’ve had the luck of, for many years, having shared our second residence with him in the Montanyà, in Montseny, near Barcelona, and that’s why I know him. He’s an admirable person, and it’s big luck for us, as Barcelona fans, that Johan is a culer. What I say is, if the members decide to give me the honor of becoming the next Barça president, I’d like to have the chance of consulting on some decisions with Cruyff. But not only with Cruyff, I must say - also, with other people I admire and respect, but with Cruyff too.
Another thing is, and this is a debate here in Barcelona that has been generated in these last few years, that it seems that Laporta insists in creating the figure of Honorary President and giving Cruyff the, let’s say, privilege of being the club’s Honorary President. In this matter, I can’t agree with him. First of all, Honorary Presidency doesn’t exist and has never existed; and in the case we as fans, someday, decide we want to have a Honorary President for the first time in history, I believe it must be someone that represents not unanimously, but for a majority of supporters the feeling of barcelonismo. Cruyff, unfortunately, maybe even today in Barcelona, represents a division in Barça. So giving him the Honorary Presidency knowing that half of the fandom would probably won’t like it, seems like a bad idea to me. Let’s leave him where he is, to advise the board, keep his feeling as a fan alive, value him. Let’s give him the treatment he deserves as such an important person which he is and has been throughout history, but there’s no need to have him in the position of Honorary President, one that, I insist, doesn’t exist in our statutes either.
We’ve heard from Laporta, obviously, that his favorite player in the club’s history is Cruyff, and I think Bartomeu said yesterday that the player he likes the most in the whole history is Rexach.
Yes? He did?
Yes. Who’s your favorite player in the history of the club?
We’re not talking about the present, right? Not Messi, just to be clear, am I right? Before Messi, is that it?
Yes, before Messi.
Wow, there have been too many, right? Way too many. I’ve always been a big fan of Xavi Hernández, I’ve always liked him a lot. But to highlight a player before Xavi, it’s a shame he wasn’t here too long, but I might tell you Ronaldinho. Yes, he was amazing. Romario too, but Ronaldinho was, those two years he was in Barcelona, he was longer than that, right? But those two years of full performance… I think that what Ronaldinho did in Barcelona couldn’t and hadn’t been done by anyone before, and I think it will be really hard to find another player who’s able to do the marvels Ronaldinho did at Barça.
About Messi: In these last years Messi had some legal problems, and in a poll made by Catalunya Radio a few months ago, we discovered that 16% of the members would consider the possibility of selling Messi. We’d like you to talk about all of this, and especially about the plans you have for Messi's future.
I understand that there might be different criteria, according to the results of his football and his way of play. To make it clear from the start, I’d risk to say Messi is, with no doubts, the best player in the history of football. I think he is, maybe for the continuity, in all these years, right? The fact that he’s enduring this many years turns him into the best player in the world. So, how can you leave the best of the world out? I like to say that the top five teams in the world would surely want to have Leo Messi. Four of them would have to pay 250 million euros to have him, and there’s a team that doesn’t have to pay anything, which is us. That’s why I think that leaving Messi out makes no sense.
Regarding the last Barcelona board and Messi, it’s true that a year or a year and a half ago Barcelona went through some difficulties, because I think this board really considered the possibility of transferring him, and there were some conversations, but we were lucky that Messi insisted in staying, he didn’t want to go to Paris, he didn’t want the PSG. But there was a time when, in an incomprehensible way, there were some moves. And I think some members of the board actually considered, in a very serious way, the possibility of a transfer. Thank God that already passed, we’ve got Leo Messi with us, he just turned 28 this week, we have a World Cup three years from now, and I think we’ve got some years ahead of us in which Messi will make us win many titles, I hope. And for them to be many years. Of course, if it’s on me, Leo Messi will remain at Barça, and we’ll help him create the circumstances, in and out of the field, that allow him to give his best football capability, which is really big.
About the conditions of the club to make Messi feel comfortable, what do you think of Luis Enrique’s work and everything we’ve achieved this season? And not only the results, but also if you like the way we’re playing.
Well, Luis Enrique, obviously, has a way to understand the game that is evolved or different, if I may say that, from the one we had the previous years. And he transmits his style and idea of the game to the field. It is true that in January we had a brief moment of conflict, highlighting the match at Anoeta, where the coach didn’t place Leo in the starting squad and that week was a little conflict. Thank God, must I say, for Xavi’s intervention that we could solve it. Luis Enrique understood that Leo Messi is an exceptional player and that, as such, he deserves an exceptional treatment. And finally all the players decided they wanted to win the treble and we got it. So, I think Luis Enrique has understood the importance of Messi, it’s hard, and even more for a person with the nature and temper of Luis Enrique, but, well, it seems we’ve found a point of equilibrium, and that’s why I’m optimistic about the future. I hope we will keep winning many trophies.
The club also needs to be a financially healthy entity. Bartomeu said we’ll have the new numbers, and he has promised we will have 600 million euros in total income next season, and some bonuses for 130 million.
No. It was about the five years, the five years.
What’s your economic project? Taking into account, specifically, that the last Deloitte report says we dropped from second to fourth club on the income table. If you look at the report made by Deloitte, Barcelona's growth has stalled compared to other big clubs.
Well, the last board are logically trying to sell an optimal economical management. It is normal they try - they’re trying to win the elections, that’s why they have to say they have the economic issue under control. Our information and our analyses go, obviously, on the other direction, it is true we’re achieving a record income of 600 million euros but, of course, to measure the management of a directive team we should focus on ordinary income, right? Because those other, more volatile incomes, those that depend on the results of the first team, those don’t answer to the management. Those are non-consolidated income. The fact of having won the Champions League can represent 70 or 80 million euros in income that, if we hadn’t won it, we wouldn’t have.
Effectively, they talked about some accumulated benefits during this five years of 120 or 130 million euros. Let’s take this number as truthful: if all this is about comparing this last five years with the previous five years, it is true they’ve earned 130 million, but it’s precisely the same quantity they’ve earned from the Qatar sponsorship, right?
That means, besides the money from Qatar, that the previous board didn’t have, their incomes are, let’s say, zero. The commercial, marketing and sponsorship income have not increased at all, they’ve stabilized or decreased by 1%. Due to that, in a few years of great power, of big results, of quite a presence in international media, well, you can’t just say we’re under a positive economic management. It is not.
And, besides that, the situation we’re about to live - this board pushes the whole club to take a very transcendent decision, as it is everything related to the Espai Barça that, as you might know, is an investment that, initially, will surpass 600 million euros and that can easily end up costing, as one can predict from logical deviations, up to 700, 800 or 900 million euros. And, because of that, we shouldn’t get ourselves into an adventure with such economic dimension if we aren’t very sure about the club’s profitability, its solvency, not to risk the club itself. And due to the pressure of taking this decision, it’s twice as important to know about the financial health of Futbol Club Barcelona.
Have you had any contact with other companies that have made an offer of similar or greater value than Qatar’s?
Yes, we’ve definitely made contact with enterprises. I told you before that we’re in the need, I’d say, to talk with executives, with talents, with companies about different aspects, about the different departments of the club. And, evidently, we’ve also held specific meetings to talk about marketing and sponsorship. We’ve had conversations, and these show us that the companies try to talk with Barça and they’re not listened to, they’re not even received. And that’s the reason why, maybe, they come to see us instead, right? And I’ll tell you there’s plenty of interest from some enterprises to establish alliances with Barcelona. And, well, we’re holding conversations, we’re talking with them. Obviously, you can’t enter a final stage of negotiation if you’re not the president. The fact of being a candidate weakens your position in the negotiation, and when what you want is to defend the interests of the club as much as you want, you should place yourself in the position where you come up with the best results, right? And it is you being president. That’s why we’ve already started negotiations and will keep up with them so we can announce in the first weeks or months who the next sponsor of Futbol Club Barcelona will be.
With Grup 14 we have many members and followers from outside of Spain. Will foreign Barça fans, with Agustí Benedito as President, be allowed to once again become members of the club?
Well, in fact, in this first days of campaign, we’ve been announcing different aspects of proposals. We started with some patrimonial proposals then, in the second press conference with proposals for the members. After that, we explained in a press conference all of our management model and our social compromise, which is a very important topic for us. This morning we’ve been announcing our projects for the divisions. We’ll keep talking the next week, but in that second press conference, when we explained the proposals for the members, we explained ten proposals and one of those, in a clear way, stated that, the day following the one when we win the elections or take ownership of the position, anyone who wants to belong to the Barça family as a Barça member, will be able to do it with no other requirement. This thing of creating difficulties, and be kept waiting for three years and all of this, I think is a little opposing, right? To the philosophy of a club that belongs to many people, a club that must be open. That’s why we’ll eliminate all the restrictions and, as it happened before this board came, anyone that wants to be a Barcelona member can become a Barça member.
And the last question about economics, money from TV rights is very important for Barça’s health. It represents €140 million. But in the United States (NBA, NFL), you can turn on your computer and buy a season pass to watch all the matches of your team or even the whole championship. But in European football, generally, this is not possible, and it’s an important source of income, especially from followers from abroad. Do you think the time has come for the club to work and make that possible, so they can earn money in this way?
Let’s see, Barça’s structure makes it so that, in a stadium where we have 98.000 seats, 83.000 or 84.000 are occupied by owners of season passes, people that have had the right to occupy the seat since many years ago, right? That’s why this is a huge limitation. We have 14,000 or 15,000 available seats, and I think that the very culture of Barça members doesn’t allow us to make any modifications. It’s an issue well accepted in the barcelonista culture. You have to think that this right for a season pass is a very treasured right that’s almost passed from father to son. And because of that, I think it belongs to the barcelonista ideology and it’s not possible to release season passes. There’s a lot of pressure on who would like to have a pass so, when a change occurs a member that, for whatever reason, doesn’t enjoy it anymore, it’s a lot of pressure from thousands of members who for many years have waited to own such a seat, right? These principles of barcelonista culture, this principle of possession and property of the passes and seats, make some schemes to become irreproducible, like the ones you’re talking about.
Lastly, what are your views on Sandro Rosell and later Bartomeu's term as Barcelona president?
Barça, for the first time in its history, is being imputed for tax fraud over a huge amount of money, and that’s entirely a responsibility of Rosell and Bartomeu. It’s true that this candidate, Bartomeu, has a pending jail time of two years and three months; and it’s also true that Sandro Rosell has a pending jail time of seven years and a half, besides the economic fines. Bartomeu is in his own right to try winning for a first time, that’s right, the elections; but I see certain conflict: I must say that, if I were in his position, with the risk of going to prison, with an imprisonment request, defending Barça’s interests above all, I wouldn’t be a candidate for its Presidency. He should worry, in the first place, about the situation in which he can put the club in case he wins the elections and also imputed for tax fraud, he could put the club in a situation in which we’d appear in all the news around the world and would create a huge damage to the entity. Anyway, it’s his choice, it seems that he sets his own interests above the general interests of the club, that’s his way to understand barcelonismo.
It is my purpose to prevent Bartomeu from winning the elections, I’ll try as hard as I can; and, logically, keeping every other candidate from winning. I hope to turn the page of an accidental term, which hasn’t been positive, once and for all, and I hope we start a new era of excitement and that we can forget certain wars and conflicts. I hope, finally, that on July 18th, Barça members concede me this honor and then we can start this new era altogether.
Thank you very much for your time, Agustí, and the best of luck in the elections.
Thanks to you.
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