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Joan Laporta and his time as president of Barcelona

Jan-Michael Marshall

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Photo by Jan Pitman/Getty Images

With FC Barcelona’s presidential elections set in place for January 24, 2021, prospective candidates have been announcing their campaigns. Among them is Joan Laporta, president from 2003-2010, who led the club from an institutional crisis to European dominance. Barça Universal takes a look back at Laporta’s time as president of FC Barcelona.

Early Years

Joan Laporta’s first foray into club politics came in the 1997/1998 season. He and a group of disgruntled socios formed an opposition party called L’elefan Blau — translated to the Blue Elephant — in retaliation to incumbent president Josep Lluís Núñez. Núñez had led Barça for 20 years and oversaw a period of tremendous growth and success.

Nonetheless, various members grew unhappy with his leadership and felt that his board lacked transparency. As a result, Laporta and L’elefan Blau helped facilitate a motion of no confidence, but to no avail.

Laporta was always an active participant, which helped his case when he ran for President. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP)

After years of pressure, Núñez eventually resigned in 2000, putting an end to his 22-year reign. His vice-president, Joan Gaspart, was his successor.

Gaspart: Years of Distress

To set the stage for Laporta’s presidency, it’s critical to consider what the club was like under his predecessor.

Gaspart’s three years in charge were characterized by poor financial management, no defined transfer policy, and no on the pitch success. Barça were trophy-less since 1999, they had four managers in three seasons, and spent 150 million euros (equivalent to roughly 200 million euros today) on 16 different players.

According to the same source, in Gaspart’s final season, the club profited about of 123.4 million euros, less than half of Manchester United’s at the time. Wages also constituted over 80% of financial turnover, the club endured a deficit of 72 million euros, and was in debt of 186 million euros.

Gaspart resigned in March of 2003 when the Blaugrana were two points away from relegation. His successor would inherit a club in disarray.

An Unlikely Candidate

Laporta was a dark-horse candidate in the 2003 election. His running mate was Sandro Rosell, who would eventually become president in 2010. Their campaign was symbolic of a young generation coming to shake-up the club and establish a new status quo. Although relatively unknown, the ex-lawyer was backed by Barça icon Johann Cruyff, which helped elevate his clout. He also notoriously promised to sign English star David Beckham.

With Laporta as President, Barcelona embarked towards a new era. (Photo via STR/AFP)

In June of 2003, the 41-year old won the presidency with 52.6% of the vote, but Beckham would sign with Real Madrid only a few days later.

“The Great Challenge”

Laporta’s campaign ran on “The Great Challange”, an overall plan to strengthen the club economically and lay the groundwork for a team that would once again dominate world football. A native Catalan, Laporta also wanted to strengthen the club’s identity, and boost public spirit and universality.

Laporta saw the opportunity to change how the club was run, and with him came a new level of professionalism and business savvy. For the first time, business, marketing, and other professionals constituted Barcelona’s board. These specialists’ knowledge and expertise helped streamline the club.

“To be successful you have to manage the club like a multinational, for that reason we have to organize and manage our club like a multinational with offices in lots of countries.”

Laporta on running FC Barcelona

Laporta’s business strategy implemented a “virtuous circle”, a positive feedback loop wherein good results in one area affect another, ultimately resulting in a thriving institution. Below is a graphical representation of this strategy in reference to the club.

Virtuous Circle of FC Barcelona

Laporta also worked to improve communication channels with socios, often holding board meetings in various locations and making them more ingrained with club affairs.

New Arrivals

With Laporta’s presidency came an influx of new players as well as a new young manager, Dutchman Frank Rijkaard. In response to missing out on David Beckham, Barça signed Brazillian icon Ronaldinho and Mexican defender Rafael Márquez, both of whom went onto becoming club legends. In the subsequent years, marquee signings included Deco, Samuel Eto’o, and Thierry Henry.

Once elected as president, Laporta moved to sign Ronaldinho – a tactful arrival. (Photo via Getty)

An avid admirer of Johan Cruyff, he wanted to return Barça to its core roots with an emphasis on the Cruyffian philosophy of football and La Masía, their youth academy. This countered Real Madrid’s Galácticos, who sought to sign the biggest names in the sport. In his first season, Andrés Iniesta and Víctor Valdés were promoted to the first team.

Cruyff also worked as Laporta’s unofficial advisor, and he gave resounding advice such as recommending the hire of Rijkaard.

The Frank Rijkaard Era

It took another underwhelming season before the Catalans finally triumphed. With Rijkaard and a rejuvenated squad, Barça won the La Liga for the first time in six years in 2004/2005, in addition to the Spanish Supercup.

Despite this success, five board members resigned that year, including senior advisor Sandro Rosell, claiming they did not like the direction the club was heading into and who Laporta had become. Nevertheless, Laporta’s project was succeeding as spending on wages reduced from over 80% of revenue in 2003 to 49% by 2005, and the number of socios increased by 20% to total to 130,000.

President Laporta opened the doors for Rijkaard, who turned the tables quickly for Barça. (Photo via Imago)

In 2005-2006, spearheaded by Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o, the Catalans won the UEFA Champions League, Spanish Supercup, and retained the La Liga. They also famously defeated Real Madrid 3-0 in the Bernabéu, truly cementing themselves on top of the world.

In the summer of 2006, a judge ruled that Laporta’s first eight days in charge in 2003 counted as an entire year, thus putting an end to his four-year term. Nonetheless, he won the elections as no other candidate garnered the requisite votes.

A Global Brand

More so than focusing on redeeming Barça’s on the pitch success, Laporta knew the importance of promoting the club as a global brand and maximizing its revenue streams.

In 2002/2003, the season prior to him taking over, Barça earned 39 million euros from commercial revenue, 42 million from broadcasting, and 41 million from match-day tickets. That increased to 94.8, 106.7, and 88.6 million respectively by 2006/2007.

Laporta understood the duties as President, and pushed the club to make it a global brand. (Photo via Getty)

A plethora of broadcasting deals paid dividends. A five-year deal in 2003 with Televisió de Catalunya was worth a reported 54 million euros annually. In 2006, Mediapro, a Spanish television conglomerate, took over the aforementioned contract, paying 150 million euros per year until 2008/2009, according to the book “Who Owns Football?” 2011.

The signing of Ronaldinho helped bring the team on the world stage, and he immediately brought smiles back to the team. The club worked closely with Nike and signed an extension in 2005/2006 for 30 million euros a year, further helping to propel the club internationally. Barça also had tours to Japan, South Korea, and China, allowing them to interact with fans outside of Europe and generate more income.

“Més Que Un Club”

Laporta knew the importance of the club motto “Més Que un Club”, which translates to “More than a Club”, and did his best to work on that.

For instance, the club never maximized ticket prices, refusing to take advantage of supporters’ loyalty. They were always affordable, and the book “Who Owns Football? (2011)” reports that the cheapest season ticket in 2006 at the Camp Nou was 69 British pounds, compared to 885 pounds at Arsenal FC’s Emirates stadium.

Laporta term as President benefitted a lot with the backing of Johann Cruyff. (Photo via Imago)

Until 2006, Barça remained one of the few major teams in Europe without a sponsor, and it was naturally a source of pride for supporters. That year, the club partnered with UNICEF, agreeing to donate 1.5 million euros a year to the organization. This was not a typical sponsorship, and it represented Laporta’s approach for Barça to represent the right values.

“We are proud to partner with UNICEF to develop our social responsibility, and to try to make the world a better place for children. We are playing the most important match of our lives here — a match against poverty and disease. Together, I think we can win this match.”

Laporta on the partnership, 2007

Rough Patch

Following their 2005/2006 campaign, the club was thriving financially and matched that with magnificent on the pitch success. But naturally, maintaining a winning environment is as difficult as winning itself, and the team faltered in 2006/2007. The team was crumbling, and at times captain Carles Puyol was the only one holding them together. This culminated in a trophy-less season, and the Blaugrana finished third in La Liga the following year.

In the summer of 2008, total revenue had risen from 123.4 million euros in 2003 to 308.8 million in 2008, representing a growth rate of 250%. For the first time in club history, Barça surpassed more than 100 million euros in commercial revenue.

Nonetheless, failure on the pitch always outweighs commercial success, and in the summer of 2008, Laporta faced a vote of no confidence. It ended up tallying only 60% of the socios‘ votes, just shy of the 66% required to expel him. Eight of the 17 board members consequently resigned, but Laporta stayed on.

Johann Cruyff notably came out in support of the incumbent president.

“To be a club member gives you some advantages, but also obligations. One of them is going to vote next Sunday. I will be voting to keep the same people in place.” 

Cruyff on the vote of no confidence, 2008

Knowing the club needed a shake-up, Laporta fired Frank Rijkaard and with Cruyff’s counsel, promoted Pep Guardiola to first-team manager, a controversial pick at the time. Laporta wanted someone symbolic of the Blaugrana and all the club stood for, thus Guardiola made for the perfect choice.

No decision by Laporta as president tops hiring Pep Guardiola as manager of the club. (Photo via LLUIS GENE/AFP)

That summer, core pieces Ronaldinho and Deco were sold to AC Milan and Chelsea FC respectively, and the team was built around a core of La Masía graduates, namely Xaví Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, and Lionel Messi.

The Golden Years

Guardiola’s first season in charge ended up being one of the club’s most successful of all time. Playing “Tiki-taka”, the Catalans dominated Europe with their style and finesse. Along the way to winning the fabled treble for the first time (Champions League, La Liga, and Spanish Cup), they decimated Real Madrid 6-2 in their home stadium and resoundingly beat Manchester United 2-0 in the Champions League final in Rome.

Night in and night out, the team played beautifully, and budding stars like Messi finally cemented his place on the world stage. It was a magical season that no Cúle can ever forget.

A historic year, which no club will ever match. (Photo via Imago)

Glory continued the following season as Barça became the first team in history to win the Sextuple– winning six out of six possible trophies in a single year.

Legacy

Laporta’s presidency came to an end in 2010, although not without controversy, particularly one surrounding heavy financial losses. His ex-senior advisor, Sandro Rosell, won the following election with more than 60% of the vote.

Laporta is remembered fondly by most fans. He and his team carried the club out of institutional, financial, and sporting crises, increasing membership from 106,135 to 173,701, the annual budget from €170 to €405 million, and winning twelve major trophies along the way.

During his seven years, Barcelona won four La Ligas, three Spanish Supercups, two Champions Leagues, one Club World Cup, one European Super Cup, one Spanish Cup, and three Catalan Cups. He re-established the importance of La Masía, helped Barça foster their football-ethos, and led them through their glory years.

Joan Laporta is a Barcelona icon, and on January 24, he might return as President.

If not for him, FC Barcelona would surely not be what it is today, both as an institution and sport icon. Laporta knew what direction to take the club in, how to bring it into the 21st century, and when to heed advice from others.

Laporta’s name is etched in gold and diamond in the history books, and on January 24, he will be hoping to win the Presidency, and carry Barcelona through yet another crisis.

Throughout my life of constant change, one thing has never faltered: my love for FC Barcelona. Whether through watching every game, listening to pundits, or playing FIFA and Football Manager, I've always wanted an outlet to express my passion for the team. Barça Universal gives me the perfect opportunity to do so, as I can combine my love of writing with my love of Barça and the sport.

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Assessing each of Barcelona’s €100 million-plus signings

Jan-Michael Marshall

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Photos via Getty

January 7 marked two years since Philippe Coutinho arrived at Barcelona. He was the second in Barça’s triumvirate of (over) €100 million signings, with Ousmane Dembélé joining six months before him and Antoine Griezmann following suit in 2019. Since then, the three have failed to live up to their lofty price tags. Admittedly, it’s difficult for any trio to fulfil expectations that come with costing over a combined €350 million. To put their price tags into reference, the Bayern Munich starting line-up that humiliated Barcelona 8-2 last August only cost a combined €100 million.

As we reflect, it’s clear to see the shortcomings of each signing, but hindsight is 20/20. On the anniversary of Coutinho’s arrival and as we enter a new transfer window now is as good a time as any to look back at each of these blockbuster-signings and examine their time at Barcelona.

Summer of 2017

August of 2017 hit Barcelona like a ton of bricks. Weeks of speculation and controversy culminated with Neymar Jr. departing to Paris Saint-Germain, and suddenly the Blaugrana were left with €222 million and a gaping hole to fill on the left flank. The transfer seemingly came out of nowhere, and the club had less than a month before the end of the transfer window to try and find his replacement. Neymar was the one Barça banked their future on, the one who would take over after Messi rode off into the sunset, but now that plan was ruined.

Neymar’s move to Paris opened up a box of problems for Barcelona. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Nevertheless, the club had more than enough money to find an ample replacement… 

Ousmane Dembélé

Ousmane Dembélé put the world on notice after a breakout 2016/17 campaign. He tallied ten goals and 19 assists with Borussia Dortmund and attracted attention from big clubs across Europe, notably Barcelona. What followed was another long played-out transfer saga where Dortmund took clear advantage of the Catalans’ newfound wealth. Refusing to sell, the German outfit consistently raised their asking price until finally accepting an initial bid of €100 million that would rise to an estimated €130 million. 

Dembélé arrived in late August with no shortage of expectations. He fit a clear need as a creative and pacey winger and could play on both left and right-wing. 

Dembele was making waves in Germany. (Photo by Deniz Calagan/Getty Images)

Barcelona’s new number eleven made his debut in the Catalan derby against Espanyol. He came on as a sub and assisted Luis Suarez’s final goal in a 5-0 thrashing. He made his first league start a week later against Getafe, but suffered a hamstring injury that ruled him out for four months. Dembélé came back in January 2018, but after playing for two weeks, he was the victim of another injury that kept him out for almost a month. On a positive note, he made it through the rest of the season without an injury.

His first season was marred by injury and an apparent lack of faith from head coach Ernesto Valverde. The Frenchman showed sparks of brilliance every now and but it was hard to be consistent as he was in and out of the lineup so often. His highlight of the season came in March of 2018 when he scored a brilliant goal (his first for Barcelona) against Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-finals. Across 23 appearances, he had four goals and seven assists. 

Dembélé was a part of the French team that won the 2018 World Cup in Russia — albeit on the ropes, but he came back to Barcelona motivated to prove himself. His second season with the Catalans got off to a great start as he scored the winning goal in Barça’s 2-1 defeat of Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup.

He followed that up with four goals in four consecutive games. In December, he scored what might still be his best goal in a Barcelona jersey against Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League group stage. He was a one-person counter-attack as he picked up the ball at the halfway line, dribbled past multiple defenders, and rocketed the ball into the top corner. He was a constant in the starting lineup, and his versatility helped that.

The more Dembele played, the more certain things became clear. Although he had injury problems, he more or less always performed whenever available. His talent and potential were evident, and he gave the team a creative spark from out wide.

On the other hand, he did not fit Barça’s playstyle enough for some. The 2016/2017 Bundesliga Rookie of the Year’s playstyle is more accustomed to wide-open spaces that give him the ability to use his pace, but Barça do not often have the luxury of playing against expansive teams.

The 2018/2019 campaign was fairly successful for Dembélé as he had 42 appearances, nearly doubling the season prior, and scored 14 goals to go along with eight assists. He also completed a whopping 4.63 successful dribbles per game. 

Able, but not available. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images)

Unfortunately, injuries came back to haunt Dembélé in the 2019/2020 season as he suffered a hamstring injury in the opening La Liga match against Athletic Bilbao. He subsequently missed five weeks and then had another injury in the fall. He tore a leg muscle and missed six months, including the rest of the season. 

The 2018 World Cup winner got off to a rough start to the 2020/2021 season, but that was natural given his lengthy spell on the sidelines. Once he found his footing, he had four goals and two assists and was vital to the team as Barça continued to lack natural wingers. His good form was short-lived, however, as he had yet another injury. This time he was on the sidelines for a little under a month. 

Investment Return Rating: 6/10

Although he can certainly improve his passing acumen and decision-making, the questions about Dembélé have always involved availability, not ability. Since arriving in 2017, he’s missed 85 games due to injury and played 90. On a positive note, he’s only 23, so there’s a chance he can shake off the injury bug as his career progresses. If he were to leave, Culés would be left wondering what could have been.

Philippe Coutinho

Out of the players on this list, Coutinho was undoubtedly the most hyped. After another drawn-out transfer saga, the Brazillian moved to Barcelona in the winter transfer window of 2017/2018. The fee of 160 million euros made him the third most expensive player of all time, after Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

At the time, Coutinho’s signing made plenty of sense. He was coming off monstrous seasons at Liverpool and could replicate the Andres Iniesta’s creativity, not to mention Neymar’s too. Once again, Liverpool knew Barça were desperate and they managed to hike Coutinho’s transfer fee all the way to €145 million, including add-ons.

Coutinho had huge expectation on his shoulders. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

After sustaining a minor injury upon arrival, he hit the ground running in his first season with the Blaugrana. The Brazillian was deployed most often at left-wing, rather than his preferred number ten role, but excelled nonetheless. In only half a season, he tallied nine goals and seven assists. He was unable to play in the Champions League due to registration constraints, and that was unfortunate given Barça’s early exit to A.S. Roma. 

Coutinho’s second season, however, was not as promising. He featured as a left-winger in 44 of his 53 appearances, and his shortcomings in that position were exposed all season long. Coutinho lacks the pace of a winger and prefers to do his damage centrally. His movement often nullified his productivity as it would interfere with Messi, who roams the pitch as well. He was also a defensive liability when played in midfield due to poor positioning and pressing, which has admittedly improved since then. As previously mentioned, he was a lacklustre winger and didn’t have the natural attributes for the role. 

Throughout the season, he was passive and lost a lot of confidence – it did not help that fans would boo him either. Overall, he lacked consistency and was clearly not living up to his price tag. 

After a disappointing season, Coutinho was loaned to Bayern Munich for the 2019/2020 season. Barcelona hoped he could regain his form and either come back rejuvenated or have more potential suitors. He played well with the German side, scoring 11 goals and having nine assists but was often given a bench role. He notably scored a brace when Munich beat Barcelona 8-2 and won the treble with them. 

Coutinho’s best work recently has come against Barcelona. (Photo by MANU FERNANDEZ/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Coutinho returned to Barcelona for the 2020/2021 season new and improved. He was determined to prove himself in the Garnet and Blue. Under Ronald Koeman, Coutinho was deployed in a number ten role for the first time with Barcelona. He thrived in that role and got off to a blistering start. In his first five games, he had two goals and two assists. The 2019 Copa America winner played with more confidence and energy, but unfortunately, an injury sidelined him for a month.

After his return, he was curiously deployed on the wing and was behind in the pecking order to youngster Pedri and Griezmann. Naturally, he failed to perform as he did at the start of the season. Some fans clamoured for him to be given a chance as a number eight in the 4-3-3 with his newfound work rate and physicality, but he was never given the chance.

He suffered another injury on December 30 and is set for a multi-month spell on the sidelines. He might get the chance to play as an interior soon in Koeman’s 4-3-3 but that hypothesis will take time to come into play.

Investment Return Rating: 4/10

In many ways, Coutinho’s signing initially made sense. He was a creative spark who could change a match in a second and could help ease the pressure off Lionel Messi. Nonetheless, for a multitude of reasons, he has not yet lived up to his price tag. Even if he were brought in for half of his fee, he still hasn’t lived up to expectations. It might not be too late for Coutinho to redeem himself but with reports of Barcelona needing to pay Liverpool an extra €20 million if the Brazillian plays in 100 competitive matches (only ten away), the two parties could go their separate ways.

Antoine Griezmann

After infamously denouncing a transfer to Barcelona the summer prior, the Catalans activated Griezmann’s release clause of €120 million and pried him from rivals Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2019. Like Coutinho before him, Greizmann looked like a natural transfer target. He’s a hardworking and intelligent player with an eye for goal and is extremely versatile too. At Barça, he was poised to fit in for Suarez at centre forward or even out wide on the left or right. Suffice to say, what looks good on paper doesn’t always translate to real life. 

Griezmann was a mega-star at Atleti. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Griezmann had a difficult start to his Barça career. He was deployed at left-wing in a 4-3-3, alongside Suaréz and Messi, but constantly looked out of place. 

Suaréz suffered a multi-month injury in the middle of the season which gave Griezmann playing time at centre forward, but he flattered to deceive. It was clear that he needed to play in his natural position, as a second striker alongside a natural number 9. Although his position did not exist in Barça’s 4-3-3, he was a workhorse who always tracked back and fulfilled his pressing and defensive duties admirably. Even if he lacked a killer instinct in front of goal, his work rate was always a positive takeaway.

That campaign, he was notably the first Barça player other than Messi to score an away goal in the Champions League since 2015. His highlight of the season, however, came against Villarreal in a 4-1 win in July. Coach Quique Setien deployed a 4-3-1-2 formation, plotting Griezmann behind Messi and Suarez. He excelled with his passing and playmaking and scored a brilliant goal, a chip from outside the penalty box. 

The ex-Atletico Madrid forward scored 15 goals in his first season to go along with four assists, which was not terrible, but far from the return, Barcelona were expecting from a player carrying a €120 million price tag.

Griezmann’s problems are clear, but there is no solution. (Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images)

There was optimism heading into the 2020/2021 season for Griezmann as he could be deployed in his favoured position, but it has been more of the same from him. Although he has seemed more comfortable than ever, he still lacks the lethality in front of goal that Barça need in their forwards. He’s been fairly inconsistent, but his best performances eclipse everything he did last season, which is at least something Culés can be optimistic about.

He has seven goals and five assists this season and is looking to be more of a leader on and off the pitch, and might still have time to do damage as the season wears on. If not, it will not be too difficult to look for suitors for the Frenchman.

Investment Return Rating: 5/10

There’s no doubt Griezmann is a great teammate and a hard worker, it’s just about whether he’s the right fit for Barça’s front line, particularly as he and Messi fulfil similar duties on the offensive end. For some, he’s been atrocious for Barcelona, but for others, he’s been decent, so it’s safe to say he lies somewhere in between. The off-the-field issues seem to be behind him, but he still has to be more consistent on the field. 

Closing Thoughts

These three signings represent some of Barcelona’s most careless transfer activity. With Coutinho and Griezmann, there was clearly not enough planning and thought put into how they would fit on the pitch. Dembélé’s situation is unfortunate due to constant injuries, but with his contract soon expiring, the club will have to make the right decision. Culés are still holding out hope that their blockbuster signings will turn the corner, but only time will tell.

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