Barcelona members strike back vs. Bartomeu: What does 'motion of censorship' mean, and what's next?

Next time you pop into the FC Barcelona boutique to buy blaugrana pants or more than a pencil, go past the ticket window by the museum or order a coffee at the café in the shadow of Kubala and Cruyff, look carefully at the guy behind the register. It that face looks familiar, that could be because it is. It might be Eder Sarabia, the former assistant coach taking up a new role.

Well, they've got to employ him somewhere.

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On Thursday evening, at the end of a day when Luis Suárez had been in Italy, doing a language exam in Perugia to get an Italian passport, engaging in 10 minutes of conversation about family but not football, Quique Setién released a statement. In it, he revealed that he had been informed that he been sacked as Barcelona manager only the night before, on Wednesday -- a month after it had been announced to the world, and almost three weeks since his lawyers had written to the club to ask what was going on.

What's more, Setién said, there had still been no settlement on the 2½-year contract he'd signed eight months earlier. More money poured away, and yet to be paid. As for his staff -- Sarabia, Jon Pascua and Fran Soto -- they hadn't been sacked at all. Instead, he had now been told that they would be "repositioned" at the club, which was news to them.

It had been that kind of day, another one only somehow even sillier, sadder and, as it turned out, more significant. It was the eve of the 20th anniversary of Lionel Messi's arrival at Barcelona, which should have been cause for celebration, but this is a club in constant crisis, and even the fact that he is still there feels a bit odd. Above all, it was another one of those days for a president whose case for being the worst in club history gets more watertight by the hour.

It was a day in which more supposed transfer targets slipped away because -- just in case you didn't know, and somehow there still seem to be people who don't -- there is no money to buy them with. A day when €98m in losses over the past year were confirmed. One in which they still couldn't get rid of the players they publicly said they wanted to get rid of ... and, now it seemed, they couldn't get rid of the manager, either. Not properly, anyway.

Still, at least Setién's statement fit on one piece of paper. The bigger statement was delivered on thousands and thousands of them. And while on the face of it, it deepened the crisis, maybe it actually offered a way out of it -- or, at least, handed back some sense of control to those who care, a little light cast over the club, a glimpse of hope.

A little before 7 o'clock in the evening local time, a dozen people turned up at the Camp Nou. They wore masks, and they brought with them boxes, bags and containers, absolutely full of pieces of paper. On them, over 20,000 people had officially declared their desire that a motion of censure be brought against team president Josep Maria Bartomeu and his board of directors -- a motion that might finally force them out.

They stood, clapped a bit, and then the boxes were taken inside. For an hour or so, they were checked -- someone turned up with coffee -- and officially received, the papers counted. This was the climax (or maybe it was just the beginning?) of a popular movement to push the president out.

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While you might not have been aware of it, this had been building for a while. It had begun with Jordi Farré, who will stand at the next elections, and other opposition candidates who joined him; it became a broad movement, a united front in defence of the club. Víctor Font and Lluis Fernández Ala came on board. Fans groups supported them. At the head of one of them, a group called "Manifest Blaugrana," was Marc Duch, with his ponytail and beard.

Together they drove the campaign on and chased signatures all over Catalonia and beyond, under the slogan: "More than a moció" ("motion"). And, somehow, they had done it too. In a time of pandemic, when people can't meet, they had managed to gather enough signatures from socis (fans who are club members) to force a vote, effectively a referendum against the president. More than enough, in fact. They'd needed only 16,521, 15% of the members. They were 4,000 over that, backed by more than a fifth of the club's membership.

A handful of the papers were not admissible, but a club statement confirmed they had received 20,867, a number that was everywhere the next day, like a winning lottery ticket. The figures were a new record -- this was twice as many signatures as had ever been gathered before (in far more favourable conditions). "Unprecedented," Font called it.

"If I was the president, I would have met the 20,000 socis," Farré said. "Honestly, Bartomeu should resign today."

Duch said: "I'd be trembling in my office and I would resign."

Bartomeu might not do that. In fact, if anyone has learnt anything about him over the past few years and the past months especially, it is that he is a survivor. Holding on is what he does, whatever the cost.

So. The signatures have been received and counted. What happens next?

-- First, Barcelona have to participate in putting together the body that runs and oversees the process. (The "table," as it's called.) That's made up of the two first signatories on the move to propose a no-confidence motion -- Farré is one of them -- two members of the board of directors, and a representative of the Catalan football federation. They have 10 working days to do that: in other words, by Sept. 29.

-- Then the "table" has to validate the signatures, which they must do within another 10 days. That takes us to Oct. 10.

-- If there are more than 16,521 valid signatures (which there will be), Barcelona will have to set up and arrange a vote of no confidence for the board of directors. It will be a referendum that basically asks: Do you want this president and his board to be sacked, yes or no? That will have to happen within 10 working days as well. All of which takes us to November, though all these things could happen quicker.

Then what?

If two-thirds (officially 66.7%) of them are in favour, Bartomeu will have to step down with immediate effect.

And once he's gone ... ?

A commission would be put in place while presidential elections are organised and held. Given the timing, those would be held in January or February. Some of the candidates -- Toni Freixa, Joan Laporta, Farré, Font, in all likelihood someone from within the current administration -- are clear, but some are not confirmed yet.

The socis will vote against Bartomeu, won't they?

Not necessarily, and 67% is of a lot of people to convince. After all, Barca have been in this situation before, and it has not always got over the line. In 1998, only 33.5% voted to kick out Josep Nuñez out (although the damage it did his presidency was decisive). In 2008, Laporta survived, but only just: 60.6% wanted him pushed out. A moció brought against Bartomeu in 2017 didn't get sufficient signatures to reach the referendum stage.

That said ... yes, you would think so now. There are already over 20,000 people who will vote against him, and it's hard to imagine him being able to mobilise sufficient support to survive, even if there will be some members who might not want to push through the no-confidence motion. Not least because there is little point trying to prop him up, as it would be only a temporary reprieve: presidential elections were set to be held on March 15 anyway and he was unable to stand, his term already over.

Why vote to keep him in for what would be barely a couple of months?

Well, then, why vote against him either? What was the point of all this? If he was going anyway, why do this now? And doesn't it create a vacuum?

Yes, it does, up to a point. But why do it? Well, because they can, which sounds flippant, but isn't.

Simply, they're doing this because it gets rid of Bartomeu faster. It could, although it is unlikely, even remove him before the next transfer window begins and probably will remove him before it ends. (Caveat alert: The consequences of all this in terms of whether he is eventually held accountable for any budgetary shortfall would depend on the general assembly in October, on the final financial figures and on the next administration, all of which remains to be seen.)

They're doing this because it means that he does not get to see out his presidency "normally," or on his terms. Because it holds him accountable, symbolically at least. Because, well, to repeat: because they can; because this is an expression, a rebellion, a statement, a taking back of power by the people, a way of exercising their rights, a sign that while there is only so much they can do, those mechanisms that allow supporters to safeguard Barcelona still stand and, even in the midst of a pandemic, can be applied. That they really do have say in the destiny of their club, that democracy is not dead yet. As the name suggests, it is a censorship motion -- and that matters. It's the chance to censor those who are not worthy of their club.

There will be trouble ahead, for sure, and the situation remains dramatic at the Camp Nou. The new administration will inherit a mess when they arrive, but for all that went wrong, for all the increased embarrassment, Thursday was a day when Barcelona -- as a club, not a board of directors -- recovered some of its dignity. And that is something to celebrate at last. Lord knows, it has taken long enough.