By Tim Hanlon
BARCELONA, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Less than four years after Sandro Rosell was elected Barcelona president with a record number of votes he has resigned amid concerns over transparency and claims of underhand dealings surrounding Neymar's transfer.
It is often said only half in jest that the Barca presidency is the most important job in Catalonia, ahead of the leader of the local government, due to the power the club hold through their fan base and the way they represent the local region.
Rosell is the latest in a long list of presidents accused of abusing that power after he refused to be open with fans over last year's purchase of Neymar from Santos and a court case is pending to investigate claims of a misappropriation of funds.
Josep Nunez, president from 1978 to 2000, was criticised for running the club as his own personal business while Rosell's predecessor, Joan Laporta, faced a vote of no confidence which he narrowly survived for not listening to the supporters.
Rosell became vice-president in 2003 when Laporta took the top job. At the time, Barca were in crisis on and off the pitch and a new board of young, successful businessmen was elected.
With Rosell's background in soccer and marketing, including his position as head of Nike's South American department, he used his contacts to bring in players like Ronaldinho and Deco, and helped to turn the club's fortunes around.
However, the relationship soon turned sour and a battle of personalities saw him resign in 2005.
He remained in the wings, though, waiting for his chance to get the top job which came at the 2010 elections and he was ushered in with a record 35,021 votes in June that year.
Barca continued the success that had followed the arrival of Pep Guardiola as coach in 2008, winning two La Liga titles and the Champions League, but there was tension under the surface.
Rosell continued to have a poor relationship with Laporta and his close friend Johan Cruyff, the former Barca player and coach who still exerted a lot of influence within the club.
Accusations spread that Rosell did not defend the rights of the club sufficiently in Spain and that he was too friendly with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez.
He also lacked charisma in front of the camera and his inability to connect with the fans saw him lose support.
But it was the signing of Brazil's 2014 World Cup hope Neymar last June, which appeared to have been a major coup for Rosell after he fought off competition from other top clubs in Europe for his signature, that led to his downfall.
Rosell, 49, quit on Thursday in the aftermath of a Spanish court's decision to investigate the 57.1 million euros ($78.12 million) transfer, with the president having not explained the details to members due to a confidentiality agreement.
A hearing will now decide whether there was any wrongdoing, which Rosell has repeatedly denied, after legal action was pursued by fan Jordi Cases who had demanded a response from the club to his request for clarity over the high-profile transfer.
Rosell's right-hand man, Josep Maria Bartomeu, has taken over as president with the aim of seeing out the mandate which ends in 2016, but with the Neymar court case set to dig up more information it is possible his reign could also be cut short.
($1 = 0.7310 euros) (Reporting by Tim Hanlon; editing by Ken Ferris)
- Sports & Recreation
- Sandro Rosell
- Joan Laporta