BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Sandro Rosell's unexpected resignation as Barcelona president has left both friend and foe alike worried about what the future holds for one of Europe's most successful teams.
Rosell announced his departure on Thursday, a day after a judge agreed to hear a lawsuit brought by a club member alleging Rosell misappropriated funds in the signing of Brazil striker Neymar last June, using false contracts to hide the true cost to the club.
But the morning after Rosell's departure, club member Jordi Cases' lawyer said his client was "surprised" by Rosell's decision to step down.
Felipe Izquierdo even joined the chorus of concerned Barcelona supporters, telling Catalan radio RAC 1 that in his "personal opinion" his client should withdraw the lawsuit so that "people who don't have anything to do with Barca can't take advantage of the situation and join the legal action."
Barcelona-based sports daily Mundo Deportivo ran a headline "In Madrid they're licking their chops," summing up the fear many Barcelona fans have that the end of Rosell's successful three-year run in charge may be used by rival Real Madrid to dethrone the Spanish champions.
Lifelong Barcelona fan David Guell, a 48-year-old computer programmer from near Barcelona, said that even though he didn't care for Rosell's management of the club he was stunned by his sudden demise.
"I was surprised because just a few days ago Rosell downplayed the matter and even offered to answer the judge's question, claiming that he had nothing to hide," Guell said.
While Guell said Barcelona was fine as long as Lionel Messi stayed healthy, he was worried that "Madrid can use the opportunity to destabilize the club."
Joan Gaspart, the last Barcelona president to resign in 2003 after a long run of poor results, said the club "lost a great president" in Rosell.
"In Barca there have always been confrontations, it's the same during its highs and its lows," Gaspart told Cope radio. "But the image we are giving here is not the best one. Thank god it doesn't affect the players."
Josep Bartomeu, formerly a club vice president, was promoted to take over for Rosell as the Catalan club's 40th president.
Aware of the anxiety the change of leadership could cause the more than 160,000 club members and millions of fans worldwide, among Bartomeu's first words was a message that "all our goals and objectives are the same."
"Our football team and teams in other sports will continue counting on our support and the resource needed to always aspire to the highest level of success," Bartomeu said.
Bartomeu's first official act as president was to make the short trip to Barcelona's training grounds outside the city, where he met with the team and coaching staff before their morning practice session on Friday.
Under Rosell, Barcelona won two Spanish league trophies, one Champions League title, and a record 26th Copa de Rey, while it reduced its debt and maintained its place behind Madrid as the world's second richest club in revenue with 482.6 million euros ($654 million) in 2012-13.
Rosell was criticized by sectors of Barcelona's fans for his decision to put paying sponsors on the front of Barcelona's shirts for the first time by striking deals with Qatar Foundation and Qatar Airways, and he was unable to convince beloved coach Pep Guardiola to stay at his boyhood club.
Rosell made it through these crises relatively unscathed as the team kept bringing home silverware, and it appeared he had scored his greatest victory yet by winning the bidding war with Madrid to lure the highly coveted Neymar to Camp Nou.
But Rosell was eventually toppled by Cases, a pharmacist from the town of Olesa near Barcelona, who led a failed campaign to censure Rosell and three of his vice presidents, including Bartomeu, last September for "lying" to club members.
As Alfredo Relano, in his column in Madrid-based sports daily AS, wrote on Friday, "a mere club member blew and the entire house of cards came tumbling down."