Barcelona’s president resigned having been undone by silence and complex sums concerning the Brazil striker’s signing
Pride goes before destruction. Signing Neymar should have been Sandro Rosell’s greatest triumph; instead it has been his downfall. The arrival of the Brazil striker will indeed define his presidency at Barcelona, just not in the way that he wanted. “We’re proud of signing Neymar but now it seems as if we have to apologise for it,” the new Barcelona president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, said on Monday morning. No one has apologised for it but Rosell did resign, walking away defeated and damaged, his departure largely unlamented. In three and am half years he never truly emerged from the shadows. He could not escape familiar foes, familiar fears and familiar phobias. He could not escape himself.
Under Rosell, Barcelona won the league, the Copa del Rey and the World Club Cup. They won the European Cup, too, the fourth in their history but somehow those trophies didn’t feel like they were his. Neymar was. The Brazilian arrived from Santos the undisputed star of the Confederations Cup and thousands gathered at the Camp Nou to watch him be presented. Real Madrid’s president, Florentino Pérez, admitted that he had tried to sign Neymar but here he was in Barcelona. The glossy dossier Madrid prepared made no difference and nor did the salary. Barcelona’s victory was all the more complete for the identity of the vanquished.
Rosell had moved fast. He is close to Ricardo Teixeira, the former president of the Brazilian FA, and Rosell’s contacts in Brazil had proved decisive. Neymar had been his from the start. This was his moment. The day after the signing was made official, the cover and the first seven pages of one paper carried headlines that essentially said the same thing: “Triple goal against Madrid,” “Sandro Rosell’s success is another defeat for Florentino,” and: “Rosell whacks one into the top corner of Florentino’s net.” And that was in Sport. Over at El Mundo Deportivo, where Rosell’s greatest allies reside, they celebrated even more effusively. Their man had done it.
At €57.1m, Neymar was cheap too. The problem was that it turned out that he was not cheap at all. It also turned out, of course, that he might not have been €57.1m either. Victory became defeat, and fast. Back in the summer, Rosell was presented as the winner in the Madrid newspaper AS. Galácticos no longer go to Madrid, Alfredo Relaño wrote; this was a “stain on Florentino’s suit”. It proved to be a stain on Rosell’s. It need not have been such a big one but his attempts to wash it off, when he tried at all, were so clumsy that they made it grow, bigger and bigger and bigger until the suit could barely be seen, just the stain.
The real cost, the newspaper El Mundo insisted last week, was €95m. By then, the public prosecutor had written a report saying there were grounds to suspect “simulated contracts”, and the judge had accepted his request to take on the case.
The more they asked, the bigger the stain grew. On Monday, Rosell was asked again and again and evaded the question again and again. Eventually, he snapped. “The cost was €57.1m, y punto.”€57.1m, full stop. On Friday, Barcelona’s new president laid out the figures. The total cost, if not the actual transfer fee, was more than €86.2m. For Rosell, it was too late; he’d resigned the day before, citing “unfair attacks”. He mentioned, too, the threats, from phone calls to air rifles. Maybe if he had talked about the full cost instead, he might never have reached this point. That he didn’t was an eloquent comment on the communication breakdown that has characterised his presidency. It was about the only eloquent comment there has been.
Rosell departed bemoaning the “jealousy” of Barcelona’s rivals; now Bartomeu talks about a public prosecutor that’s “not one of ours” and that the “campaign from Madrid” is the stock-in-trade of the media.
Just because you’re paranoid does not mean they’re not out to get you. El Mundo’s piece was written by Eduardo Inda, the former editor or Marca whose exposé forced the resignation of the former president Ramón Calderón and pathed the way for Pérez to return at Real. There was something a little convenient in their calculations reaching €95m and something more than a little forced in the declaration that Neymar was in fact the most expensive transfer in history, applying a broad definition of “transfer fee” which included agents’ fees, signing-on bonuses and other payments not normally considered part of the transfer fee itself.
Equally, while Barcelona’s claim that the €57.1m was analysed, it did not escape the attention of Barcelona fans that Real have not offered up an official fee for Gareth Bale and the figures they have filtered (£78m, conveniently £2m less than was paid for Cristiano Ronaldo) differ from those that other well-placed sources insist on.
Yet this did not start with Madrid; it started with a pharmacist from Esparreguera, a Barcelona soci by the name of Jordi Cases who demanded that the club clarify where the €57.1m had really gone, and there are doubts about the way the money has been spent. There are doubts about Rosell. Rivals might have seen their chance to help topple him but those rivals were not just in the capital but in Catalonia, too. And Rosell put it on a plate for them. His downfall is of his making.
According to Barcelona, they paid €57.1m in transfer fee, €17.1m to Santos and €40m to a company called N&N, owned by Neymar’s father who held the player’s economic rights. It was that money that Cases wanted clarified. In Barcelona’s accounts, the €40m is registered as a “penalty clause” between the parties, one that refers to an undertaking that they would sign Neymar rather than that they had, even if it essentially amounts to the same thing; the total was be payable on completion.
The €17.1m was the money paid to Santos to sign Neymar, whose contract was due to expire in 2014 anyway. Of that money, Santos were due to receive 55%, while two other companies, SONDA and TEISA, would receive 40% and 5% respectively. Then there were other payments, which Barcelona have now outlined in the wake of Rosell’s departure: a further €2m payable to Santos if Neymar made the Ballon d’Or podium, €2.6m in agent’s commission, €10m signing on fee, €7.9m on a collaboration with Santos (an option on Santos players), €4m in marketing for Neymar’s father in seeking out sponsors etc over five years, €2.5m to Neymar’s charitable foundation and two friendlies which Barcelona say have a value of zero but El Mundo claimed were worth €9m. Then there’s €44m in salary, at €8,8m a year – not an especially huge figure.
Not including salary, Barcelona admitted to the €86.2m total cost.
It is not unusual to break up a contract but this is especially complex. There are doubts and huge questions. Such as: What does the collaboration with Santos entail? How realistic is €7.9m for that collaboration? What are the friendlies for? What will Neymar Sr’s marketing and scouting role entail? And what about the agent fee? And are those payments separate from the Neymar deal? Does the €40m to N&N go directly and solely to Neymar’s father? Is he really going to get as much from this deal as the player? Or is this a way of indirectly paying Neymar more, without his salary formally challenging that of Lionel Messi? Or instead a way of indirectly paying him more without being taxed at 56%? Where is the money paid to N&N taxed and at what rate? Why is it defined as a penalty, not a transfer fee? It is here that the public prosecutor expressed doubts at the definition of the payments.
Who stands to benefit from a deal that is fragmented? Because Santos did not own 100% of Neymar’s rights, the money they received then had to be divided up among their Brazilian partners. Does that explain why it suits them to be paid for a separate collaboration rather than receiving a bigger transfer fee? A collaboration would not be shared; a transfer fee would. Just as any profit from a friendly would be entirely theirs, not shared among those who owned Neymar’s rights.
€57.1m is a bit over half of what Real paid for Bale. Is that the point? Did Barcelona want to make their victory greater? Did Rosell? Did the idea of some kind of moral superiority seduce them? Tata Martino had described the fee for Bale as a “lack of respect to the world”. That position would have been harder to maintain had they said €86.2m. “One cost 50 or so, the other 100,” Martino said recently.
Unless the court finds otherwise, unless the judge declares that some of the other payments in fact amount to hidden transfer fees (or hidden wages), Barcelona can continue to insist on a €57.1m fee. They maintain that here is nothing illegal about the transfer and, looking at the figures, that stance looks reasonably sound. But why not explain before? Andoni Zubizarreta, the sporting director, had a point when he said it is rare for any club to outline a transfer like this and it will be hard to demonstrate that the other payments are not, as they insist, for different things. “Negotiating engineering”, as Rosell called it, is not unusual. But the wait, the evasive responses, the talk of confidentiality clauses, has cost him his presidency.
Cases has now withdrawn his complaint and Barcelona have outlined the costs but it is too late. The courts will proceed and Rosell has gone. The doubts have not. Reports have also linked him to a corruption scandal in Brazil. Had Barcelona responded to Cases in the first place, it may never have got this far. He went to the courts because the club ignored him. Now a pharmacist from a small town has brought down the president. A pharmacist from a small town who – and there is something commendable about this – wanted to know the truth. A pharmacist from a small town, and it is hard not to suspect – and there may be something a little less commendable about this – who was encouraged to keep up the pursuit.
In the end, Cases caught his prey. “My work is done,” he said. Many were pleased. Ultimately, Rosell will not be missed. He was the most voted-for president in Barcelona’s history but somehow he didn’t convince. He had four directors of communication but rarely communicated well. There was something that just didn’t sit right – rigid, cold, unnatural, he didn’t inspire confidence or transmit feeling; the good was forgotten, the bad lingered.
Rosell’s Barcelona credentials are unquestionable: he had been a club ballboy and his father was a director, the man who smashed the obligatory bust of Franco on the day the dictator died, but he never quite seemed to “get” Barcelona. He will be remembered as the man who sold Eric Abidal and sold the shirt to Qatar Airways. The man who fell out with Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola and even Messi. He was a man who lacked the charisma and charm, the approachability and popularity of Joan Laporta, the former president and his rival who he so resented and whose shadow he could never escape.
When at last he did, he did so by signing Neymar. It was supposed to be the start of Rosell’s era. It was the end. It cost him more than he could ever imagine and more than he would ever say.