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Barcelona's members approve plan for $725M redevelopment of Camp Nou stadium
Club's first referendum since 1950 follows team's 3-1 victory at home to Real Betis
Results leaves second-placed Barca a point behind Champions League opponent Atletico Madrid
Both Madrid clubs win on Saturday to keep La Liga title race in the balance
Barcelona’s immediate footballing fortunes may be in some doubt, but the Spanish club’s members voted Saturday to approve a proposal aimed at securing its long-term future.
Involved in a tense La Liga title race, locked in a Champions League battle with Atletico Madrid, facing a transfer ban due to alleged irregularities involving the signing of youth players, plus a tax investigation over the murky deal to buy Neymar – it has been a testing season for the Catalan outfit.
And the reaction has been one of defiance.
Before Saturday’s 3-1 win at home to Real Betis, a big flag in the Camp Nou stated “Don’t touch La Masia” – a response to FIFA’s punishment for infringing transfer rules relating to players under the age of 18.
Barca’s famed academy has produced a conveyor belt of talent, but the “Espai Barcai” proposal is deemed to be just as important to the team’s continued success.
Some 118,000 members were called to vote after the Betis match in the club’s first referendum since 1950, when it was decided to leave the Corts stadium and build a new one – the Camp Nou.
The turnout was not quite that high – just under a third of the total.
More than 27,000 members approved plans for a $725 million revamp that will extend the ground’s capacity to 105,000 people and develop the surrounding areas. Just over 9,500 voted against.
The project is due to start in 2017 and be completed four years later, including the creation of a 12,000-capacity multi-sports pavilion and 5,000 new parking spaces.
“The members were voting for the future of this club,” said president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who was appointed after Sandro Rosell stood down in the wake of the Neymar revelations – the club later paid an extra $18.5 million in taxes after being hit with fraud charges.
“Days like today are when the world sees what FC Barcelona is and means,” he added.
“The support for the New Espai Barça proposal has been extraordinary. It’s a huge project that will improve the club for years to come.”
Saturday’s win on the pitch kept Barca a point behind Atletico with six games to play, ahead of Wednesday’s second leg of the Champions League quarterfinal at Vicente Calderon, with the score 1-1.
Lionel Messi opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 15th minute after Alexis Sanchez was tripped by Jordi Figueras, who in the second half diverted Adriano’s pass into his own net.
Substitute Ruben Castro immediately reduced the deficit but Messi netted his 25th league goal this season after his 86th-minute penalty was blocked by goalkeeper Adan.
Atletico stayed top with a 1-0 win at home to Villarreal thanks to Raul Garcia’s first-half header – his 16th goal this season.
Third-placed Real Madrid remained two points behind Barca following a 4-0 win at Real Sociedad, who stayed sixth.
With star player Cristiano Ronaldo injured, record signing Gareth Bale took center stage with an opportunist long-range strike to put Real 2-0 up after Asier Illarramendi’s opener.
Pepe then volleyed in from fellow defender Sergio Ramos’ headed pass, while Angel Di Maria sent substitute Alvaro Morata clear to wrap up a comfortable win ahead of the Champions League trip to Borussia Dortmund, with Real holding a 3-0 advantage.
In Italy, Inter Milan’s hopes of qualifying for the second-tier Europa League suffered a blow as striker Diego Milito missed a penalty in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at home to struggling Bologna.
It meant Walter Mazzarri’s fifth-placed team have not won for the past four Serie A matches.
In France, Paris Saint-Germain guaranteed another season in the Champions League with a 3-0 win at home to Reims which put the Ligue 1 titleholder 16 points clear of second-placed Monaco with six games to play.
Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani made up for the absence of injured star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic by opening the scoring just before halftime, while Algerian defender Aissa Mandi netted two own-goals after the break.
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