Lee Wellings: Right time for Barca to build a new camp

When you’re in possession of Europe’s largest football stadium, one of the world’s most iconic sporting venues, planning to expand is not the most obvious move.

But Barcelona have looked to the future and know if the club stands still, their years at the top of world football are under threat.

And so a grand project to modernise the Nou Camp will be put to its members. In April a referendum will decide if the Barcelona will have a ‘New Camp’ – with capacity increased to 105,000.

It’s a classic case of speculating to accumulate because the cost of this will be around $900 million, not to mention the potential disruption over a long period.

But looking around an empty Nou Camp this week you can see not just the benefits but the necessity. No-one here is denying there are issues with access and visibility for a stadium that was built in 1957.

And the design for a renovated Nou Camp looks a thing of beauty, most noticeably the roofing that would cover the fans in all part of the ground

But the Barca board had actually been contemplating the seemingly unthinkable – moving from the Nou Camp. I visited the site they had earmarked for the project, and was surprised how close it is to their current home, less than 5 kilometres.

It would have space to create something that lead to revenue streams beyond just match tickets. Shops and restaurants would be a big part of that. Barcelona’s other sports venues are another important factor, such as the basketball club. They need to be part of a project. And the football club understands its role at the heart of the city’s tourism, and at the heart of its reputation, as well as its responsibilities to its members.

It’s not as if the club hasn’t been making any use of its potential. From the ice skating rink to the most impressive club shop I’ve seen, the periphery of the current stadium is already an enticing place for the many fans, visitors and tourists to spend time.

But the need to better yourself, to make a move when inactivity is a viable option – this is where Barcelona FC finds itself.

The last decade has seen unprecedented success on the pitch. A celebrated team of supreme talent, from Messi to Iniesta to Xavi et al can make an authentic claim to being one of the greatest teams of all time, winning SIX trophies in 2009.

But sustaining such levels of success over such a long period is close to impossible and finally the air of invincibility has gone. The humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich brought with it a new era for Barcelona, no longer considered the top dogs in Europe and the world.

The next threat comes from Manchester City next month, with the Abu Dhabi backed club showing signs their financial muscle might finally be turning them into a force in the Champions League. If they manage to overcome Barca, and it promises to be fascinating, the alarm bells really will be sounding in Catalonia.

While City’s finances are frightening, Barcelona is one of the main clubs being targeted by the European Commission, which is investigating what they perceive as illegal state aid to Spanish football clubs.

Interesting then that the transfer of Neymar is on the front pages here this week – with the President Sandro Rosell having to deny the real fee for the Brazilian was over €90 million. He insists it was the €57.1 million they declared.

The matter was raised by a Barcelona ‘socio’, taken to a judge for legal assessment and followed up by Spanish newspapers. Whatever is proven or otherwise, the suspicion that finances in Spain are ‘smoke and mirrors’ will not go away.

And so Barcelona needs to make money. Lots of it. And above board.

If there’s one statistic that supports this bold move from Barcelona more than any other it’s ’15 years’.

That’s how long since they last staged the Champions League final. Why are UEFA not selecting the continent’s biggest stadium, hosting one of it’s biggest clubs, for the greatest showpiece?

So in 2021 if a resplendent renovated Nou Camp is available how could UEFA say no.

The question then, is can a new-look Barcelona team be developed to grace this new home.

Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Contact him at ten.a1716532292reeza1716532292jla@s1716532292gnill1716532292ew.ee1716532292l1716532292. Follow Lee on twitter @LeeW_Sport