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Joan Laporta and the art of knowing ‘when to fold’



Photo via Imago

Less than two weeks into club football’s annual hiatus and the Spanish media already find themselves overworked. The last fourteen days have seen rumours and reports fired left, right and centre. Barcelona, in particular, have been extremely busy in this pre-Euro period and have confirmed the signings of Sergio Aguero, Eric Garcia, and Emerson Royal.

All three moves were expected in the books of football pundits, and their confirmation did not come as a surprise to many. However, what caught the eye of fans across the globe was Joan Laporta’s professional and no-nonsense sense of management. For a side historically tormented by hasty decisions in the transfer market, it came as a whiff of fresh air.

Georginio Wijnaldum’s transfer saga, in particular, highlighted the stark contrast in the managerial approach. Joan Laporta’s board secured a verbal agreement with the Dutchman, and all seemed set for the move to go through.

Wijnaldum would move to Barcelona as a free agent, for a reported salary of €3.5 million per year. Ronald Koeman’s position as the coach and national counterparts in Frenkie de jong and possibly Memphis Depay made the decision a no-brainer. However, a late swoop by PSG with an improved economic proposal initiated a wild turn of events. In under 48 hours, Wijnaldum reached a verbal agreement with the Parisian side.

Gini to Barça looked like a done deal. (Photo via Imago)

Throughout the chain reaction that saw their confirmed transfer target lured away from the doorstep, Barcelona did not budge. How Joan Laporta handled the situation is admirable.

For the additional benefits that Barcelona promised Gini, even a slightly improved offer could have sealed the deal once and for all. PSG’s massive near €10 million offer could have been taken down with a couple of million extra from the Catalan side. However, Laporta knew the delicate financial situation. Moreover, he was aware of the message it would send out if he joined the bidding table.

And if rumours are to believed, Gianluigi Donnarumma might not end up joining Barcelona, either, looking towards Paris Saint-Germain for a thicker salary day.

This pattern of rigid stances in the transfer window has become a novel trend for Barcelona. The new board has refused to bend to players or agent’s whims and fancies. Under Laporta, Barcelona has secured Aguero, Eric Garcia, and Emerson at relatively low paychecks. In another similar episode, the club did not think twice before releasing Juan Miranda simply because of his high salary demands.

Entering desperate bidding wars, kneeling before agents tantrums and paying large bonuses and gifting out lucrative and long term contracts are the signs of a weak board. They not only soil the name of the club but also encourage further exploitation. Most importantly, they dampen the value of the institution and exchange its prestige for money.

Under the previous board, Barcelona has suffered endless humiliation in the transfer market. Players and agents took the club for a joyride. Barcelona’s desperation displayed the board’s weakness as they threw bundles of dollar notes to convince players who did not even fit the system. The Catalans’ outlook in the window needed an urgent change, and what better person than Laporta to oversee that.

Laporta is not here to mess around. (Photo via Imago)

Early in his tenure, the Barcelona president has laid the ground rules. The value of the badge and the prestige of the institution are the founding principles and come before anything else. A player is welcome to join the club if he knows and values the stature that comes with it. The era of high wages and luxurious contracts is over.

The economic situation of the club is not pleasant. Josep Maria Bartomeu and his board have left the club accounts in ruins. Moreover, the debt and the massive salary payroll further worsen the situation. Laporta does indeed have his hands tied up in the transfer market. Planning a rebuild with limited resources is a task easier said than done. This is where the president’s knowledge of ‘when to fold’ comes in handy. Like a skilled poker player in Las Vegas, he stuck to his chips and did not call Paris’ high stake raise. It is a quality that comes rare but is invaluable.

Negotiations with senior players to take a pay-cut have begun as of this week. If we have learnt one thing about the man at the helm, he will not hesitate to take the road not taken. Laporta’s rigidity and keen understanding of businesses make him a difficult party to reason with. If a pay cut is not accepted, the President will not hesitate to terminate contracts. That, coupled with his little wriggle room in transfer negotiations, are exactly was Barcelona needs to come out of these trying times.

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