x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Barcelona should just stay put at Camp Nou

Moving to a bigger stadium will be expensive and unpopular with fans, writes Andy Mitten.

Barcelona’s board of directors plan to either demolish Camp Nou or renovate it. Quique Garcia / AFP
Barcelona’s board of directors plan to either demolish Camp Nou or renovate it. Quique Garcia / AFP

Camp Nou is not the world’s biggest football stadium. Stadiums in Pyongyang, Kolkata and Mexico City claim bigger capacities, yet none boast as many seats as Barcelona’s home ground, nor the regular huge crowds.

Camp Nou, a Uefa five-star venue, has been redeveloped several times, yet Barca are not content. Their legendary home looks dated from the outside and beneath the stands. They claim that 20,000 members have an obstructed view of the pitch and that only two per cent of their seats are high-yielding executive ones, compared with seven or eight per cent at their European rivals’ grounds.

Their solution is either to demolish Camp Nou, most of which was built in 1957, or remodel their existing home.

Next month, the board of directors will vote on the projects, either of which will be funded from Barca’s €100 million (Dh505m) annual profits. Both solutions will mean an extended capacity of 105,000 seats and extra cover for a stadium that is largely open.

Camp Nou redevelopment plans have been mooted before, notably in 2007 when architect Sir Norman Foster planned to increase the height of the main stand, then cover and clad the stadium in a Gaudi-esque terracotta exterior.

It would have been a new architectural centrepiece for a city already stuffed with design classics, but the project never broke ground and was shelved by an austere new board who struggle to justify the anticipated €250m cost.

The issue is back under discussion and it becomes more prominent each time Barca visit a new stadium. A 2010 trip to Dallas Cowboys’ vast new home impressed the Catalans. The club also know they can raise funds by selling the stadium naming rights to a corporate sponsor, though it would be unpopular with fans.

The cases both for staying at Camp Nou and starting afresh are compelling. Changes are needed, from more parking spaces to updated facilities for Barca’s other sports, yet should there always be a rush toward the new?

Some of the finest stadiums are so because they are enshrined in history. Camp Nou is not Barca’s first home, so the emotional attachment may be less, but it is an cornerstone of world football, unique in style and size. Another huge corporate bowl will not be the same.