In 1997, a young Joan Laporta first introduced himself to the Barça entourage by co-founding the ‘Elefant Blau’, a group of concerned socis disillusioned by José Luis Nuñez’ last years as Barça president.
Their mission was to keep Barça from becoming a ‘SAD’ and continue to be owned by the club’s members. The movement was a resounding success. Laporta, along with fellow lawyer Sebastià Roca, led the party to get 6,014 signatures to take Nuñez to a referendum with a motion of censure.
Although then-president Nuñez remained in charge, he eventually resigned in 2000 due to constant pressure and mediocre results on the pitch.
What followed for the next three years was one of the worst ever eras for Barcelona, under the leadership of former vice president Joan Gaspart. Both on and off the pitch, the club was a total disaster. Expensive transfers failed, managers did not last, and terrible on-field results were coupled with very low matchday attendance. A situation oddly similar to the one Barça currently find themselves in.
Although he was far from the favourite, the support that Laporta gained with the Elefant Blau group was enough to make him a viable candidate for the 2003 elections.
Against all the odds, he was elected Barcelona president on the 22nd of June of that year. He chose Frank Rijkaard as the manager to lead his new project and managed to make Barça competitive in Europe again.
By 2008, when Rijkaard’s winning cycle had come to an end, he made the risky decision to appoint then B team manager Pep Guardiola for the first team. After seven phenomenal years for the club in 2010, Laporta finished his term as undoubtedly the greatest ever to direct the institution, a club with over 100 years of history.
With Barcelona under an institutional, economic, and sporting crisis again, Laporta has been the man elected to rebuild what he once crafted.
As he said it, he is the same person as he was in 2003. The main difference is that he’s more experienced, but he has the same determination and motivation to turn things around.
Laporta once again has prepared himself with everything that made him great in the first place and has already made significant progress in returning the club to its former glory.
Running a football club is extremely difficult; it cannot be a one-person job. In his first term as president, he had a few prominent board members on whom he relied the most upon when making important decisions.
The first of them was Sandro Rosell, who ended up leaving the club after differences with Laporta. However, when he was part of the board, he occupied the role of sporting vice president, a similar title to the one Mateu Alemany currently occupies.
While Rosell’s actions at the club can be questioned by many, there is no doubt that he is an exceptional leader and has connections that helped Barça in many ways. For example, the transfer of Ronaldinho was made possible by his relationship with Nike Brazil.
Apart from that, he was the one in charge of negotiating transfers and contracts. Definitely, a valuable asset to have, despite only working together with Laporta for a short period of time.
Alemany is arguably even more competent in some situations. In only a few months, he has done a phenomenal job given the dire financial situation.
He is already experienced in the field, essentially running Mallorca and Valencia in the past and producing brilliant concomitants. Alemany himself has spearheaded the still ongoing salary reductions.
Other crucial members in Laporta’s first term as president were Ferran Soriano and Txiki Beriguistain. The duo currently work for Manchester City as economic vice president and sporting director, respectively.
Soriano was a specialist in finances and primarily responsible for overturning Barça’s woeful financial situation in a short amount of time. As for Txiki, he was the most prominent figure in the sporting and technical staff back then.
The signings that were made from 2003-2010 were mostly successful, and trusting inexperienced managers in Rijkaard and Guardiola were great choices.
Eduard Romeu and Ferran Reverter, both essential members of the club at the board level, have done a fantastic job in explaining the reality of the club’s accounts to the members and fans so far.
Reverter’s presentation of the due diligence and financial audit was especially brilliant, confidently showing how depleted the club’s resources are and what their plan to recover.
“The night the previous board signed Griezmann, they took a closer look at the club’s accounts, and noticed they couldn’t afford him. Immediately they had to take another €85 million loan, which they knew they couldn’t pay either.”Ferran Reverter
Towards the end of the first term, Rafa Yuste took over as the vice president. He has reclaimed his role this time around. Apart from being Laporta’s childhood friend, he is vital to the way that the president runs the club.
Most notably, he is credited as the person who brought UNICEF as the main shirt sponsor, as well as convinced Laporta to appoint Pep Guardiola in 2008.
It’s impossible not to mention the key role that the late Johan Cruyff played in Laporta’s first term. As the president’s close friend, he served as the unofficial advisor for many years. As recognised by Laporta himself, the Dutch legend is a gifted footballing genius and helped him shape the club.
As a token of gratitude, Laporta handed him the ‘honorary president’ role, which was stripped off him by Rosell in 2010. Cruyff’s son Jordi will take on a similar role this time around. He has already been working as an advisor, and was reportedly crucial in the president’s decision to keep Koeman for longer than he should have.
With a whole array of experienced board members, Laporta has prepared the best men for the job. In the short time they have been in control of the club, there has already been more transparency, explanations, and willingness to debate about the club’s problems with the members than there ever was under Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu.
Reverter has explained recently that Barça reached a negative net balance by last April. The board have already taken cautionary steps to ensure that the club can continue to be self-sustainable for a long time.
“The previous board gave out contracts that would improve by four times in 2021. If the club was a company, we would have been bankrupt since April.”Ferran Reverter
First and foremost, considering the outrageous debt that the club carries due to the previous administration’s mismanagement of the club’s money, it was crucial to restructure the debt.
As Super League plans have stalled, it was necessary for Barça to look for other sources of short-term income. The board took a new €500 million credit from American company Goldman Sachs, an essential move to pay the player’s salaries.
This, along with the financing of the ‘Espai Barça’ project, has allowed them to restructure the debt and build a financial plan which will see Barça benefit in the long term.
The ‘Espai Barça’ project, a complete remodelling of the sporting complex and the stadium, was first designed by the previous board. However, the budget that they had anticipated was simply not enough to go ahead.
After a slight design tweak, Laporta proceeded, and the new budget of over €1 billion was approved. This change will be very welcome, as the Camp Nou was quickly being left behind in a deteriorating state.
It is no secret that Josep Bartomeu’s administration had little care for the safety hazards at the stadium, something which cost the board €2 million to fix. Apart from that, the design is outdated, and it does not compete with the best stadiums in the world anymore.
Most of the other big clubs in Europe had already built modern stadiums catering to the new UEFA model that inculcates a roof on all stands, and now Barcelona will follow the same. Revenue will peak when the construction is done, and Barça will have the biggest sports complex in the world.
The last general assembly discussed some crucial points for the short and long term security of the club between the members. The first and most important part was the approval of the aforementioned Espai Barça project.
However, the sale of 49% of Barça Studios also did bring in some short-term liquidity for the club. The board will still be able to control the media operation and communications department of the club, as they own 51% of the entity.
The contracts signed with multiple ‘penyas’ (or official fan clubs) were also put under scrutiny. Laporta explained that they have been taking advantage of the club, receiving up to €10 million per year without any reasonable explanation.
The president explained the discrimination of the other socis who were not part of the penyas and how the previous board allowed it to kidnap the club in that regard. More developments regarding these contracts will follow in the subsequent assemblies.
After ten years of dreadful management, Barcelona is finally making savvy administrative moves and will continue to grow in the following years despite the awful situation the club is submerged in.
To start with, the thing for which Laporta has been criticised the most: letting Lionel Messi leave the club. While it is true that failing to keep Messi is a failure both for him and the club, the dire financial situation and the FFP limit imposed by La Liga are factors that the board could not control.
La Liga’s latest salary limit (based on the revenue of each club) only gave Barça a measly €97 million per season to register players. Barça were subject to the 4/1 rule; however, it allowed them to register all of the summer transfers in the end.
La Liga will make the new salary limits public tomorrow. Barça go from second place to 7th place. Madrid shoot up with a whopping 739M per season. Barça have a measly 97M to register players.— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) September 28, 2021
— @partidazocope pic.twitter.com/pj3g8bSDRI
Barça signed Eric García, Sergio Aguero, Yusuf Demir, Memphis Depay, and Dani Alves. All of whom can contribute a lot to Barcelona, both short and long term.
In the case of Eric, the current Spain international is a former La Masia player who comes back home with more top-level experience both in the Premier League and the Champions League.
Despite early critics, he has managed to improve in the last few weeks and has nailed his place as a starter during Ronald Araújo’s absence.
And unlike the previous board, who used to give out exorbitant contracts, Laporta’s administration managed to negotiate lower terms with the centre-back. As one of the lowest earners in the squad, there is no doubt that Eric has the potential to become world-class in the future and his signing was risk-free.
Kun Agüero is simply one of the best strikers ever to play the beautiful game. Reportedly, he accepted Barça’s offer, despite having more lucrative offers elsewhere.
Signing on a free transfer, with a reasonable salary and a short contract, his signing was completely understandable from a sporting and economic perspective.
However, the player has recently suffered an arrhythmia, a heart problem he’s had in the past, which has come to haunt him again. There’s a very high chance that he may have to retire with reports suggesting that the announcement could come next week.
As for Memphis Depay, he signed for Barça at the peak of his career. 2021 has been a fantastic calendar year for Memphis, playing an important role for Olympique Lyonnais, the Netherlands national team, and now Barcelona.
He also rejected other proposals from other clubs that offered better contracts, showing his passion for succeeding at the Camp Nou. It’s only been a couple of months, but he has already become the leader of Barça’s attack and can even become one of the best free transfers the club has ever made.
We can’t forget the loan signing of Yusuf Demir. Barça will have to pay €10 million if they decide to purchase him at the end of the season. The young 18-year-old has not had enough chances to show his talent, but the figure would be sensible considering that many European greats were also chasing his signing.
Luuk de Jong was also signed on loan, but Sevilla continue to pay his salary. Barça did not pay any loan fee either. Koeman’s request was completely free.
And, of course, fan favourite Dani Alves. The Brazilian signed on a free transfer on a meagre salary, but his presence in the dressing room will far outweigh the money given to him.
As a club legend, he knows the style and dynamics inside out. Moreover, he’s recognised as someone who is able to motivate his teammates and keep morale high.
From a tactical perspective, Alves offers depth in multiple positions, including right-back, central midfield, and if push comes to shove, even attacking midfield. With an ever-burning desire for silverware, it’s really tough to see how his transfer will fail.
Overall, although conditioned by the dreadful situation, Laporta’s first signings have mainly been positive and risk-free. The club would only spend €5 million in transfer fees for five players that can be very useful for the short and long term future of the club.
The departing transfers were also extremely great opportunities for the club. The biggest one was the loan + mandatory sale of Antonie Griezmann to Atletico Madrid. They have already paid €10 million for the player and will have to pay €40 million next year. Not to mention, Atleti are paying his full wage, one of the highest in the entire league and nearly €40 million gross per season.
Another player who departed was the young Brazilian full-back Emerson Royal. The move was criticised by many when it happened, but time has proven Barça right since.
The player was mediocre in the very few minutes he played for Barça and was heavily criticised for his performances at Tottenham Hotspur under Nuno Esperito Santo. While he’s improved heavily under Antonio Conte, the club made a respectable €15 million in net profit if all variables are met for his sale and saved up his (admittedly low) salary.
The other players who departed include Junior Firpo, Jean-Clair Todibo, Carles Aleña, Juan Miranda, Ilaix Moriba, Matheus Fernandes, Monchu, Francisco Trincao, and of course Miralem Pjanic on loan.
All of them are substitute players at best, and the club will save a healthy amount in their salaries. If all the variables are met, Barça will have made close to €150 million in transfer fees this summer.
Contract renewals and salary adjustments
Part of the problem that the previous board left without taking care of was the contract situation of many first-team players. As for the captains, they had long contracts with high salaries, something which the previous board has remedied.
Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets, and Jordi Alba have all agreed to lower and differ part of their salaries to help with the registration of the signings and the grim state of the club’s accounts. Alemany has also been in conversations with Samuel Umtiti, Philippe Coutinho, and Neto for them to follow.
Sergi Roberto and Ousmane Dembélé have been more problematic, though. As their contract expires this summer, they will undoubtedly have more appealing options elsewhere.
Laporta will have a big challenge in sealing the renewals of both players, with a salary that is adequate to the reality of the club. Reportedly, both of them are willing to make an economic effort to stay at the club.
The future of Barcelona lies in the young generation. Pedri and Ansu Fati have recently been renewed until 2026 and 2027, respectively, with a release clause of €1 billion each.
This has been great news for the whole Barcelona fanbase, as they managed to secure the services of arguably the club’s two most significant assets.
Reportedly, Pablo Gavi and Ronald Araujo are the next two gems that will agree to new contracts in the coming months. The work that Laporta’s board are doing with player contracts is exemplary.
Last but not least, if there’s one word to describe Joan Laporta, it’s brave. The president has little concern about what the majority of the people think about an issue. If the sporting staff and himself decide that a decision has to be taken, it will be.
In July, La Liga agreed on a partnership with the investment group CVC, allowing them to take control of a percentage of the clubs’ TV rights for the next 50 years. As analysed by experts, this would have jeopardised the club’s long term future.
Even as a delayed response, rejecting the CVC deal was the perfect demonstration of Laporta’s best virtue. As confirmed by Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, signing it would have allowed Messi to continue at the club. The easy thing to do was to sign the contract.
Both former president Joan Gaspart and Bartomeu, best known as the worst presidents in the club’s history, admitted that they would have signed the contract. Keeping Leo Messi for two years, to them, was more important than the long-term future of the club.
In tandem with his previous tenure, Laporta has hired a relatively inexperienced manager to lead the team after sacking Koeman — Xavi Hernandez. The Spaniard’s return to the team was heavily celebrated by fans, who flooded the streets ahead of their game vs Espanyol on the weekend.
While Xavi would have preferred having a more extensive transfer budget to work with, he will undoubtedly raise confidence with players and fans alike.
Laporta has shown, time and time again, that he thinks in the club’s best interests before his own.
Some even accused him of not appointing Xavi Hernandez because he was part of Victor Font’s candidacy. That has been previously disproven when you review that he appointed Guardiola despite being part of Lluis Bassat’s candidacy in 2003.
Xavi’s arrival, like Rijkaard’s and Pep’s before, is extremely risky. But that is how Joan Laporta is. This is what he represents.
Barcelona, after ten years, finally has a brave president again. One that is not afraid to take risks and is able to make decisions with the club’s best interests in mind.
So far, he has prepared a world-class and experienced group of staff members, developed several administrative changes and is correctly dealing with many complicated contract situations at once. He is doing it again, taking Barça on the path back to glory.