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Bartomeu hid the real cost of Espai Barça from his board members

BarcelonaIn April 2016, Josep Maria Bartomeu, then president of Barça, organized an event with the captains of the first football team and the coach to discover the model of the new Camp Nou. A modern and innovative project conceived by the Catalan architects Pascual and Ausió, with the collaboration of Nikken Sekkei’s team. While toasting with cava for the jewel in the crown of the Espai Barça, there was a completely opposite reaction in the offices: “This project, as it is proposed, is absolutely impossible to carry out.”

The phrase was uttered by William T. Mannarelli, an American architect who had been hired a few months earlier to direct the construction of the Espai Barça. It was the big project of Bartomeu’s term – which had won the elections in 2015 – which had a budget of 600 million and hoped to start work in the summer of 2017. But these were the board’s estimates, based on what the partners had approved it in 2014 in a referendum. Instead, the technicians argued that it could not be done either because of the price – because it would be more expensive – or because of the deadlines – because it would last longer. The subsequent increase in the cost of the project and the delay in the works – which were due to be completed in 2021 and have not yet begun today – have finally proved them right.

According to sources directly linked to Espai Barça, both Mannarelli and the coaches working on the remodeling of the Camp Nou already warned Bartomeu of all these problems, but the then president looked the other way. For example, there are documents and emails in which they warned of the extra cost “that was omitted”. To the point, they say, that he “came to hide information from his fellow board members.” “There was a basic problem with the project, which needed the approval of the urban plan [MPGM], and here the project stalled significantly because the City Council was very involved with Barça in the negotiations. But even if this had gone fast, the work could not have been carried out because no company would have tendered the project “, comments a former Espai Barça worker. A point of view confirmed by the current managers of the club. In fact, as explained by ARA, the current management of Joan Laporta took an unpleasant surprise when he entered the club, because he knew first hand that no builder was willing to carry out works that had a budget well below of its real price.

Now the problems went further. According to the technicians, in one of the meetings they managed to show Bartomeu that the budget had to be raised. But the president’s first response was another. “It was ordered that the project be tweaked to make it cheaper,” says a former employee. This was, they explain, how they tried to “mutilate” the winning model so that the reforms were cheaper, for example by saving money with some of the structures. And they also tried to cut back using cheaper materials than were initially planned. “Until they saw it was impossible.”

In the end, “logic was imposed”, says a person who had been linked to Espai Barça. The initial project was maintained and the cost was raised. From the initial 600 million it went to 815. This was the final price that the partners had to approve in a referendum scheduled for 2020, but which blew up following the coronavirus. Then came Bartomeu’s resignation and, with Laporta in the box office, the Espai Barça project would take a Copernican turn.

In any case, the final 815 “were not real”, according to the sources consulted. “The project was still undervalued and its cost was at least 30% higher,” they point out from Espai Barça. In fact, the new board reported a few months ago that 125 million had already been invested, 25% of the initial budget for 2014, but only 5% of the total had been executed – basically the Johan Cruyff Stadium. “This shows how undervalued the project was,” Ferran Reverter said in an appearance when he was still Barça’s CEO. “Bartomeu said 815 but the project would have climbed to 1,200 in the end. No matter how much we wanted to insist or whether it was the Camp Nou, no company would have worked losing money,” says a person closely linked to the project for years.

The role of William T. Mannarelli, the director of the Espai Barça project

Today Mannarelli is no longer at the club. Their contractual relationship ended in the summer of 2021, shortly after Laporta’s arrival. “He could have been very critical of Bartomeu and the project, but there comes a point where he ends up becoming an accomplice to it all,” says one person very close to the president. According to ARA, the decision was also motivated by doubts about the investments that this architect had directed regarding the remodeling of the Camp Nou and the parallel works.

Before his resignation, however, Mannarelli had been in charge of sending an extensive and accurate report on the Espai Barça to all the members who were part of the commission, renewed after the elections. The architect had also warned of the cost and some problems. In part, Laporta’s management picked up the gauntlet and substantially tweaked the reform. “The first thing we did was look at the real cost. We were taken by surprise, because we knew the price would go up but we didn’t imagine it would do so much. Then we traveled, saw other stadiums and made a definitive proposal.” points out a member of this committee. Today, of the initial 600 million, the total cost climbs to a maximum of 1,500. “There will be people for and people against, but at least we’ve told the truth,” they comment from the board.

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