One of the objects in Sandro Rosell’s office in Barcelona is the receipt of the card to make him a member of Barça that was filled by his father, Jaume Rosell, manager of the club from 1975 to 1978. “This year I celebrate my fiftieth birthday. years of membership, Barto will put the badge on me ”, he explains in reference to the gold badge that all the members who arrive receive. The office is full of memories, but it is also in the building where he was arrested in May 2017 and which marked the beginning of a two-year ordeal in prison. Those days have become the book A big hug, where he recounts his experiences with the aim of raising funds for the foundation of Father Paulino, a chaplain who works to help prisoners.
What things are learned during 645 days in prison?
Prison makes you harder but also more sensitive. You see people stabbing you in front of you and you can’t do anything about it, because it’s part of the prison’s internal codes. In the end it no longer affects you to be beaten every day by things as small as a coke. But at the same time, you become more sensitive. Prison is a world of contrasts where everything is magnificent. I feel tougher now, I always say what I think. But at the same time, I try to help people more. I used to do it, because I was educated like this at the Costa i Llobera School, where they wanted to train you in a supportive way. But now I help more.
In the book he says that the men of Ager, the people of his family, do not weep.
No, they don’t cry.
I was totally out of focus when I said these things, right?
That’s what came out of me that day. Every day I wrote and the book is a reflection of mood swings. And that day I remembered what my grandfather always told me, that the men of Ager should not weep. Now that I have daughters I realize that our generation is very complicated, just as we were educated with masculinity. I have discovered different values from the ones they taught us and we have to recycle them little by little.
Have you learned to cry in prison, then?
Yes, that’s right. I used to hold on. For me it was a sign of weakness. Now I have discovered that crying can make you loud.
He coincided in prison with Catalan political prisoners. How were the relationships between them?
I wish they loved each other more.
The book has surreal moments, like when he discovers that they put an envelope with money that is not his at home, during the search. What can be done about it?
There is nothing you can do about it.
Who left that envelope?
That day there were three bodies at home: the National Police, judicial officials and the Civil Guard. Go find out who he was. I keep the money in a safe, not between clothes. In addition, having 5,000 euros is not a crime. Now I know the law and I have learned that you can have up to 100,000 euros in cash without anyone being able to tell you anything. That day, the whole building was barely 200 euros in cash.
Did they do it so they could have an image that went against them?
Yes. When it happened I went crazy, that money was not mine. And the police told me that maybe they were from my wife. But at home we are from Àger, in these things … and I keep the money. So I replied that I already knew why they were doing it, I had seen it on TV. Whenever images of searches appear they say they have found a lot of money there. They play with the possibility that the population will see it and already think you are guilty. That’s when I sniffed it was a conspiracy.
Seen in perspective, what do you think condemned him then?
Having been president of Barça. And I want to get to the end of the case. That is why we have filed a lawsuit against Judge Carmen Lamela for prevarication, but the Prosecutor’s Office has already responded by acting as if they were its defense attorneys! Justifying it, saying he had a very high workload and got lost. We asked Lamela at the beginning of the case for documents that were exculpatory. And she swore three times that she didn’t have them. But when he left the case, the next court gave us more than 2,000 folios, with this documentation included, in just 24 hours. With these documents they would have excused us.
Do you trust justice?
I was lucky because I had three fair judges at the end of my case. But in the case against Lamela I will not get away with it because it is the Public Prosecutor’s Office itself that wants to close it. Therefore, it makes me suspect that the Public Prosecutor’s Office was also involved …
Have you considered reaching an international tribunal?
Oh so, I don’t stop. I am very heavy.
Is the complaint against Lamela also an opportunity to find out who is behind your case?
Correct. It is the only way to know who manipulated the state system, who manipulated the officials, who corrupted them with power, money or favors.
Who do you think it was?
I can’t say because I have no proof … but I have no doubt.
In the book he talks about an agreement with the FBI to exonerate the Mediapro group …
I say it conditionally, huh? That all this has been read by a lawyer. In the book I talk about two or three possible explanations. What I’m clear about is that there’s someone behind me who doesn’t love me. Someone I didn’t do favors to, someone in front of whom I didn’t kneel when he asked me things.
Ten years ago he won the Barça elections. And he quickly denounced the contracts he found there.
Laporta’s management signed a contract for the club’s television rights with Mediapro in the seventeen days between the June 13 elections, when we won, and his last day in office. In these seventeen days the outgoing board can sign contracts. It was legal but welcoming, because they did it without consulting the incoming president. Then I had a four-year term, until 2014, and they signed a five-season contract, until 2015. But in the middle, the competition commission said the TV contracts had to be for three years. And so the contract renewal eventually did fall within my tenure. And you know what happened. Curious things happen with television contracts, both before and now, with the Viana pact …
What things do you mean?
The funny thing about this latest pact is that, initially, they decide to end the men’s league and not the women’s. Don’t they say we are equal? But, especially, what is surprising is that they say that in these agreements, according to which the Football League will pay 200 million to the Superior Council of Sports, will also include a revision of the audiovisual law that would allow rights contracts of television were six years again. Curious, isn’t it?
Why did he stop being president of Barça?
For the threats my family received, especially my mother. I cried every day. And finally, I decided to leave it at that. While I took advantage of Neymar’s imputation, it’s true. This also fascinates me. When they charge you they say you have to step down from the charge to defend yourself. And I did, and then they called me a coward. Whatever I did, the press criticized me.
Wasn’t the press fair to you?
We can’t say that all the press was bought, but when I joined Barça there were paid trips, contracts, nativity scenes … I didn’t do it and that hurt me a lot. If I wanted to run for president of Barça again, I wouldn’t explain it all.
He therefore insists that he will not run in the elections.
Sure, that’s why I say what I feel like, I don’t need any votes. If you speak ill of me, I don’t care. And when you no longer care about something, you can tell the truth. But in this country no one is telling the truth. In Catalonia, telling the truth penalizes.
What problem does football have, with so much corruption and mafia style?
Football is not … it’s only at Barça. There may be bribes in football, but threats to the mothers of presidents? It doesn’t even happen in Argentina. In Barcelona you can’t take charge, because we kill each other. What does it take for a Catalan to speak well of another?
Did he have to go to jail to reach that conclusion?
No, he didn’t have to, he had already discovered it as Barça president. And then some do not understand why I say that I am a pro-independence activist but that I would leave the country if we are independent. We are a country where everyone is criticized, with economic and media interests. You, in ARA, not all always tell the truth.
He has the phone open to talk to us whenever he wants. Do you think, then, that the press is bought?
No, the sports press has a corrupt part, as with the political press, as with other jobs. The level of corruption in the press is exactly the same as in politics, the automotive sector or construction.
The case for espionage of Jaume Roures is pending. And the Neymar case …
I don’t care because I’ve never spied on anyone. I am not worried about the second part of the Neymar case either, my lawyers tell me I can rest easy.
Is the Barça model in danger?
I’ve been thinking for a long time, and now with the coronavirus even more, that we need to review what “More than a club” means. In every sense. The phrase is great but very dangerous. Now a bridge is falling due to a flood and they are asking Barça to put the money into rebuilding it, because we are more than a club. If you don’t they will tell you that the president has not understood their values. And we will be there again with this nonsense that we Catalans have many times.
How would you define “More than a club”, then?
Now Barça looks like the Ministry of Sports of Catalonia. Members come to ask for sections of new sports, clubs that want you to help them … Barça is a private association, and the priority is to win leagues and Champions.
Should it play a role in politics?
I am a pro-independence activist, but everyone must be able to join the club, whether they are democrats, Catalanists or Spaniards, from the right or the left. If we don’t understand the club then we will kill him.
It is hard to believe that he will have no role in the 2021 elections …
No, I don’t want any charges. But I want to influence to prevent someone with economic or media interests from entering. And if they ask me for advice, I can give it.
Are you referring to Victor Font?
I don’t know him well enough, I can’t talk about it.
No project has emerged from within the board, is that weird?
Yes, it’s weird. Maybe it’s the first time it’s happened.
Have you proposed a pact between candidates to bury old wars?
It is completely false. Yes I would like that, whoever wins, there can be consensus to help the club and that others do not oppose. When I left Barça I did not oppose it until the 2010 elections. I never publicly criticized the board.
Has one of Bartomeu’s great successes been to prolong the triumphant cycle?
Yes of course. Just look at the statistics.
And one of the big dark spots is spending too much money to be able to do it?
This is another story.
Is a winning cycle coming to an end?
Only God knows this, but the cycle, as we have seen it so far, we must reactivate and rethink. If we do nothing, the Barça cycle is over. We need to act.