- POSTED: 24 Jan 2014 04:07
- UPDATED: 24 Jan 2014 05:14
Barcelona president Sandro Rosell resigns after three-and-a-half years at the helm of the Catalan giants.
BARCELONA: Barcelona president Sandro Rosell, facing legal action over the signing of Brazil star Neymar, resigned after a three-and-a-half year spell in charge of the Spanish champions on Thursday.
Pressure had mounted on Rosell, 49, after a judge agreed on Wednesday to hear a case made against him by one of the club's own members for alleged misappropriation of funds in the deal which brought Neymar to the Camp Nou last year.
Sporting vice-president Josep Maria Bartomeu will replace Rosell as president for the remainder of the board's mandate, which runs until 2016.
Rosell once again defended his position on the Neymar signing by describing the complaint made against him as reckless.
"From the first day I have said that the signing of Neymar was done correctly and it has provoked jealousy from some of our rivals," he told a press conference at the Camp Nou.
"I don't want an unjustified attack to negatively affect the image of the club and therefore I believe my time at the club has come to an end.
"I have presented my irrevocable resignation to the board."
Bartomeu will now take over and dismissed rumours earlier in the day that presidential elections could be called in June.
"My first message as the new president of Barca is to announce the continuity of our project until 2016," he said.
"We continue with the utmost desire and commitment to maintain the sporting, economic and social excellence of our club."
Rosell has routinely insisted that Neymar cost the club 57.1 million euros ($77 million), but refused to divulge how much money each of the parties to the deal received on confidentiality grounds.
That led Jordi Cases to launch the case against Rosell last month for not informing the club's members as 40 million euros of the fee was supposedly paid to a business owned by Neymar and his father called N&N.
The club were subsequently asked to submit the contracts that sealed the player's arrival in Catalonia, as well as Barca's financial accounts for the past three years.
And the judge, Pablo Ruz, decided that the documentation handed over reveals "sufficient elements" for an investigation to go ahead.
On top of the 57.1 million euros attributed by the club for the signing, Barca also paid Santos 7.9 million euros for the first-option to buy three youth team players and nine million euros for playing two friendly matches, the documentation for which Ruz has also now requested.
The capture of Neymar was a significant political coup for Rosell.
A former Nike executive in Brazil, Rosell played a key role in bringing two-time World Player of the Year Ronaldinho to the club in 2003 in his role on the board of previous president Joan Laporta.
His relationship with Laporta soon broke down, though, as he left along with incoming president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who was then in charge of basketball operations at the club, following irreconcilable disagreements with Laporta in 2005.
He returned to the club in 2010, succeeding Laporta by winning by the presidential elections by greatest margin in the club's history with 65.5 per cent of the vote.
Given his business links in Brazil, Neymar was the perfect marquee signing for Rosell and he made a move as early as November 2011 to ensure the former Santos man would end up in Catalonia by agreeing a deal with a business owned by Neymar and his father called N&N to bring the player to Barcelona when his contract expired in 2014.
However, as La Liga rivals Real Madrid circled around Neymar last summer, Rosell's desperation not to be outdone by Real president Florentino Perez may have significantly increased the outlay made by the club.
Once elected, Rosell quickly set about reducing the club's huge debt left behind by Laporta's reign.
A feat he impressively managed, reducing the debt by 100 million euros, whilst maintaining a more than competitive side on the field which won six trophies during his time in charge.
However, many felt he was willing to sell the club's soul in his quest to balance the books.
Rosell's popularity among the club's supporters and indeed some senior players has been on the wane for some time.
His decision to cash in on a commercial sponsor on the club's shirt for the first time in its 111-year history shortly after becoming president in 2010 was decried by many as selling out on Barca's "more than a club" motto.
A bumper deal signed with Qatar Sports Investment in 2010 for 171 million euros firstly saw The Qatar Foundation replace UNICEF on the famous blaugrana shirt before Qatar Airways took over the sponsorship this season.
Rosell's marketing background also helped him seal another major sponsorship deal with Intel last month.
However, by prioritising the club's finances, Rosell made some unpopular decisions within the dressing room and the club's fan base.
In particular, the decision to not renew the playing contract of Eric Abidal last summer months after he had returned to action from a liver transplant was seen as lacking the warmth with which Laporta had previously built up strong relations with the club's stars.
Defender Dani Alves was so upset that he changed his shirt number to the number 22 previously worn by Abidal as a tribute to the Frenchman.
That trend followed last month when in an uncharacteristic outburst, Lionel Messi slammed Rosell's economic vice-president Javier Faus a being a man "who knows nothing about football" and who "treats Barcelona like a business, which it is not."
The more popular and charismatic Laporta, who is expected to launch a bid to return as president in 2016, also joined in the cries for Rosell to explain himself to the club's fans on Wednesday.
And with his credibility amongst the club's members at an all-time low, it seemed only a matter of time before Rosell finally fell on his sword.