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Bitter Battle for presidency at Real Madrid

News date: Friday, 09th of July, 2004

MADRID An acrimonious electoral campaign culminates Sunday when Real Madrid's members elect a president to take charge of the club for the next four years.

Florentino Peréz, who has run the club since 2000, is favored to beat the other two candidates - a former president, Lorenzo Sanz, and Arturo Baldasano, vice president of an electrical goods company, Teka.

Peréz toppled Sanz in July 2000, gaining the support of 55 percent of the nearly 30,000 members who voted.

Peréz, the 57-year-old president of construction giant ACS, has signed four "galacticos" - David Beckham, Ronaldo, Zinédine Zidane and Luís Figo - and claims to have solved Madrid's debts by selling a training ground to the city government. Madrid won no trophies last season but took the Champions Cup in 2002 and won league titles in 2001 and 2003.

Such is the ill-feeling that a dispute between the candidates over postal votes has led Sanz and Baldasano to consider appeals against the election results if Peréz wins.

Sanz wants all postal votes annulled after he claimed Peréz broke the rules by urging club members to vote for him by mail before the electoral campaign had formally begun.

Sanz and Baldasano have accused Peréz of mismanaging Madrid's finances and failing to provide a true picture of the club's financial position.

In a heated debate on Spanish radio this week, Sanz estimated Madrid's debt at E384 million, or $475 million, and said Peréz was "arrogant and has lied to club members." Peréz said he has cut the club's debt to E38 million.

Sanz has said Peréz is more interested in marketing and landing major stars than "sporting reality."

"People keep thinking Real Madrid is the richest team in the world and it's not true," Sanz said. "We're behind Manchester United and Juventus, and besides, with that money we could have done things better."

Sanz and Baldasano argue that Peréz's transfer dealings have unbalanced Madrid's team. Both have described Beckham's signing from Manchester United as a mistake.

All three candidates have issued a host of pre-electoral pledges.

Peréz says he will turn Madrid's Santiago Bernabéu Stadium into "the world's best," with a steel-and-glass sliding roof, which would cost E30 million and be in place by 2008.

"We want to honor our legendary stadium, which was conceived and built in the '40s and make it the best stadium of the 21st century," Peréz said.

Meanwhile, Sanz promises to sign a Portugal midfielder, Maniche, and two Czechs, Milan Baros, a striker, and Tomas Rosicky, a midfielder, as well as a Cameroon striker, Samuel Eto'o, who is joint-owned by Madrid and Mallorca.

Baldasano, who played on Real's junior teams, claims the club has become unpopular under Peréz and wants it to recover "the humility and respect that are the eternal values of the club."

Baldasano's pledges include consulting recently appointed coach José Antonio Camacho on possible signings, promising he will move for Manchester United's Ruud van Nistelrooy or Everton's Wayne Rooney if required.

Baldasano said he would also try to bring coach Vicente del Bosque back from Turkey's Besiktas, which he joined earlier in the summer.

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