Nou Camp Nou one of most important moments in Barcelona history
In a sport that tends to focus on the short-term, the importance of the decision FC Barcelona made this week will perhaps only really be appreciated in the future. On Tuesday, just over an hour before midnight, the club sent out a press release revealing the winner of the race to design an upgrade to their stadium: Nou Camp Nou. The chosen firms were Japanese company Nikken Sekkei, in conjunction with Catalonia-based Pascual i Ausio.
By the time the media release dropped most people already knew what it was going to say. La Vanguardia had leaked the winner earlier in the day before Barca had uttered a word, much to the dismay of some of the other entrants, who were still presenting their projects when the news filtered through. Among those that lost out were the companies behind London's Olympic and Emirates stadiums, the Dallas Cowboys Stadium, and the new San Mames.
Nikken Sekkei were one of the favourites to begin with, coming with a significant pedigree from their work on the Tokyo Dome, as well as 2002 World Cup grounds the Saitama Stadium and Denka Big Swan. In their press release Barcelona explained that the chosen proposal stood out for "treating with ingenuity the great height and width gains that are necessary from the expansion of the installation."
Ingenuity will be important considering Barca plan to keep their ground entirely operational during the project, promising that no season ticket holders will lose their place. It is thought that Nikken Sekkei's approach offered the most viable way of making that happen. Construction will be done in phases, speeding up during the off-season, and will vary according to the stadium's three separate tiers. The first will be given a steeper inclination to improve visibility. The second will be largely left intact, and the third will be expanded so that it reaches the same height as the current, vertigo-inducing east stand, around the entire circumference of the stadium.
It is that amplification of the third tier that will provide the bulk of the capacity increase from the current 99,354 to a planned 105,000. It is numbers that are still significantly less than the Camp Nou's old standing capacity of around 120,000, but the new ground will focus more on improving visibility, space, and accessibility for those with reduced mobility, rather than pushing the number of supporters it can take to the limit. The added seats in the third tier will be used to absorb part of the club's lengthy season ticket waiting list, while it is promised that every position in the stadium will be shielded from the elements thanks to a new 47,000m² cover.
Barca's hope is that they can bring a stadium that was designed for the very different footballing outlook of over half a century ago into the modern era, but it won't be cheap. The project is expected to cost around €400 million, half of which, it is claimed, will come from a sponsor, including naming rights.
Initially it was presumed that Qatar Airways would be front-runners to take up that option, but with no new deal between them and Barcelona for an extension of their current sponsorship agreement (which runs out at the end of the season), it will be intriguing to see how the fight to put a name to perhaps the most famous ground in the world develops.
Beyond the cost, there is also a potential emotional price to pay in altering a ground that is intrinsically linked to the most important and successful period in Barcelona's history. It isn't uncommon to speak to older club members who have been coming to their seat in the stadium for most of their lives. Yet it is also common to hear of a change in atmosphere from one of engagement with an underdog club in the past, to the colder, more theatre-like demand for a spectacle found in the present day.
Will the expansion further that process? Or, could it perhaps re-engage some of the matchday fanbase by bringing them closer to the pitch with the steeper incline, and adding a fresh batch of new, hungry season ticket aspirants to the third tier? The answer will be clear in 2021, when the project is scheduled to be completed.
Projects on this scale are prone to delays, and on Wednesday one journalist even jokingly questioned whether Antoni Gaudi's Sagrada Familia might be finished first.
¿Qué acabará antes, el Nou Camp Nou o la Sagrada Familia?- Alex Lebrón (@AlexLebron) March 8, 2016
The comment was flippant but it does nail how important this building will be not only to Barca, but the city of Barcelona. The current Camp Nou, built because of the surge of interest created by superstar striker Laszlo Kubala, went on to become more than just a place to watch football, but also a major cultural attraction that houses the most-visited museum in Catalonia.
Will the new Camp Nou, whose construction was spurred on by another diminutive striker's glorious era, have the same success?
Lee Roden is a European football writer based in Barcelona. Follow him on Twitter @LeeRoden89.