Joan Laporta is 58, it is 17 years since he became president of Barcelona, a decade since he departed and five years since he last fought and lost elections. The hair is a little greyer and the first thing he says as he takes his seat is that the situation is “complicated”, leaving no room for bombastic promises or grand statements. No point, either. “Voters will reward seriousness, rigour, experience and knowledge,” he says. And yet there’s still a glint in his eye, the familiar hint of mischief.
It is here in this sparse room above his campaign HQ at the Moritz beer factory in Barcelona, and it is there the following morning, 600km away in Madrid. A giant banner with his face on covers the façade of a 15-floor building on the corner of Santiago Bernabéu Street, right by the home of their greatest rivals and the scene of his greatest night: the 6-2 against Real Madrid in 2009. “Looking forward to seeing you again,” the message runs. All it lacks is a winking emoji. So much for no grand statements.
In the capital, many didn’t see the funny side. In Catalonia, many more did. Some enjoyed the ballsiness, the glimpse of the provocative president he was before and the threat his appearance represented to their rivals, how offended some were.
The banner broke from the studied seriousness, and the favourite for the elections, Víctor Font, insisted: “In these things he’s the master but banners don’t win you Champions Leagues, build a stadium, or fix the debt.” Yet the emotional impact was huge, the reaction massive, Laporta thrust centre-stage, and it may work. Besides, however conciliatory he’s been since announcing his candidacy, maybe he can’t help himself. If he could maybe he wouldn’t even be here.
Joan Laporta’s electoral poster on the corner of Santiago Bernabéu Street, with Real Madrid’s stadium in the background. Photograph: Juan Medina/Reuters
Barcelona are in crisis. Whoever wins these elections – and there are eight men trying to gather sufficient signatures to stand, with Laporta and Font the favourites – will inherit players, a manager and a mess. The admitted debt is €488m. There is a stadium to build, a loan from Goldman Sachs to be repaid. Wages have been deferred, another problem handed to the new president. And the team are in trouble.
As for Laporta, the charisma and easy charm is still there, no sign of him slowing down, but it’s still hard to imagine the energy of 2003 and harder to imagine equalling that era. There’s no Johan Cruyff to guide him, no Pep Guardiola to manage for him, and maybe no Lionel Messi, either. In short, is he mad? Why go back? Continue reading