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Distractions looming as Barca bid for the double

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Phil Minshull | 12:14 UK time, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

I hope as many people as possible saw at least something of the enthralling La Liga game between Barcelona and Valencia on Sunday. To my mind, the Catalan club's 3-0 win was one of the best matches in Europe this season.

In theory, I was going to take copious notes, having mentally composed myself to look at why Barca seem to have lost their way a little, not only in the league but also, to a certain extent, in the Champions League.

However, at the final whistle went, the only words on my pad were 'Messi, Messi, Messi'.

Lionel MessiBarcelona's Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick against Valencia

Until Sunday night, I was definitely nodding my head in agreement with those sages of Spanish football who said that Barca lacked a little of their chispa (spark) of last season.

Yes, they were getting results but the thrilling displays of last season were often absent.

Ibrahimovic, after such a promising start, has been suffering the classic striker's drought and has only scored once in his last eight league game. In fact, he sat out Sunday's match after getting sent off in a scrappy 2-2 draw at Almeria a week ago, which gave Real Madrid the La Liga lead.

The Argentine wonder and current Fifa World Player of the Year scored his last two goals while Valencia were a man down but, as their coach Unai Emery conceded after the game, they could have had 13 men on the pitch and they would have fared no better.

Nor was the game a one-sided affair for much of the match. Valencia gave as good as they got for 70 minutes and have been a historic 'Bestia Negra' (a literal translation is Black Beast but it means bogey team) of Barca. They are one of the few teams who are usually not overawed in the Camp Nou, and they were not on Sunday.

However, it was one of those occasions when everything clicked for Barca.

Iniesta and Busquets were superb in the midfield, a prelude for what they might do for Spain in the World Cup. At the back, despite the absence of their inspirational captain Carles Puyol, Pique and Milito, the latter still getting back to his best after a long term knee injury, stopped everyone and everything coming their way.

Thierry Henry even came off the bench at half-time and played an outstanding 45 minutes to remind everyone what he is still capable of when he enjoys himself and stops sulking and skulking around on the sidelines.

There were VfB Stuttgart 'spies' in the stadium, although they were hardly working under cover as Barcelona had provided them with the customary courtesy tickets. I think what they might have to say will make uncomfortable listening for the German club's coaching staff ahead of Wednesday night's Champions League last 16 second-leg match.

Everything now looks hunky-dory on the field for Barca, at least for the moment although, as Real Madrid know after last week's shock Champions League exit, matters can change very quickly.

However, with elections coming up for the club presidency at the end of the season, I'm wondering how much the players will be distracted when the campaigning starts in a few weeks time, just as things also start to get serious down the home straight for La Liga, and probably the Champions League.

In principle, the election date will be 13 June with the current president Joan Laporta formally standing down at the end of that month.

There are many who will not be sad to see the 47-year-old lawyer depart after his seven years at the helm of the Spanish giants, despite him doing what no other Barcelona president has done and delivering two Champions League titles as well as an unprecedented triple triumph last season.

Accusations have been flying thick and fast about his authoritarian style since shortly after he took office although, from my perspective, many of his critics have usually concentrated on personality issues rather than more substantial ones concerning club policy.

In 2008, Laporta just barely survived a vote of no confidence, his opponents just failing to get a two-thirds majority but eight of Barca's 17 board members resigned in the wake of the poll in protest at Laporta's refusal to bow to the popular demand for him to go.

In contrast to the way clubs are run in many other European countries where rich businessmen just buy their way directly into power, when the time comes, many of Barca's 162,979 socios - club members - according to the published numbers at the beginning of the season, will have the chance to vote for the man who will take over from Laporta and guide one of the world's leading clubs for the next four years.

The big problem is, will the new president be to the liking of the players and their coach Pep Guardiola?

In January, Guardiola said that he would sign a one-year extension that would keep him at the club until the end of next season.

However, Guardiola has yet to put pen to paper and will only do so at the end of June.

"My successor should not be worried about the coach. All he has to do is establish the terms of the contract with the best tactician in the world," said Laporta in January, handing the man who takes over from him a slightly poisoned chalice.

Joan LaportaBarcelona club president Joan Laporta is standing down ahead of a new election in June

The favourite to take over from Laporta, who is expected to expand on his political ambitions in the near future with local elections coming up in the autumn but who will doubtless still have considerable influence within the club, is his one-time ally but now implacable enemy Sandro Rosell.

Rosell was a close friend of Laporta during the last contested elections in 2003 - no-one put their name forward to stand against Laporta in 2006 - but the pair fell out in 2005 and Rosell resigned his position as Barca vice-president.

Since then, the man who can claim to have brought Ronaldinho to Barcelona has conducted an unofficial campaign to oust or succeed Laporta.

The mudslinging between Rosell and a pro-Laporta candidate, yet to be named but possibly Barca's first vice-president Alfons Godall, has yet to commence in earnest, but it will do soon.

Rosell has claimed that he can steal Bayern's Franck Ribery from under Real Madrid's nose and that also might not go down too well with some Barca players, not least Henry and his good friend Messi.

Nobody is suggesting that Messi will leave the club if Rosell gets elected but an acrimonious election may be enough for some Barca players to take their eye off the ball.

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