FC Barcelona’s membership have placed their trust in former president Joan Laporta to restore sporting glory and a sense of identity as he overcame the challenge of Víctor Font and Antoni Freixa with almost 60 percent of the vote to regain the role he held between 2003 and 2010.
For the past three seasons the club has been in turmoil: building up a £1.1bn debt, falling to heavy Champions League defeats to Liverpool, Bayern Munich and, most recently, 4–1 at the Camp Nou to Paris Saint Germain, whilst the relationship between the board and the club’s top players has been toxic. The resignation of former president Josep Maria Bartomeu in October 2020 appeared to have provided some breathing space for the club to regroup ahead of the selection of his successor.
However, in a sensational development, the club offices were raided by Catalan police on 1 March, just days before the election, whilst Bartomeu spent the night in a police cell as part of an investigation into corruption against the previous board.
At the centre of the investigation is the use by Bartomeu’s board of the 13 Ventures PR company to brief against senior players, most notably Lionel Messi and Gerard Piqué in the media in their disputes with the club’s hierarchy. It is alleged that contracts with the company were inflated, with the former president personally benefitting from the difference.
The very public arguments saw Messi trade accusations with former teammate and sporting director Éric Abidal, who resigned in 2020 along with six board members following the sacking of coach Ernesto Valverde and the alleged refusal of players to accept a pay cut in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Apart from the chronic financial situation of the club, exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, which saw the club’s revenue decline by €200m in the past year, the major issue on the minds of members was whether any of the candidates could persuade Messi – who cast his vote as a club member for the first time – to stay at the club after previous run-ins with Bartomeu led the Argentine to lodge his intention to leave the club on a free transfer last summer. After casting his vote, Laporta promised to phone Messi’s father and representative, Jorge, to discuss the Argentine remaining at the club.
For Laporta, it was sweet revenge after losing out to Bartomeu in the 2015 presidential election, despite the unprecedented glory achieved during his own seven-year presidency, including six trophies won in 2008 alone.
In terms of restoring Barça’s identity, Laporta repeatedly invoked the ghost of Johan Cruyff, with the image of the iconic player and coach of the club forming the backdrop to a number of speeches. Not only that, but Laporta indicated that Cruyff’s son Jordi – also a former player – would return to the club as sporting director if he was elected president.
Another key pillar of Laporta’s electoral strategy was to restore the club’s soul with a return to a reliance on the “spirit of La Masia” and the promotion of talented youth team products. Whilst the idea of rekindling memories of Pep Guardiola’s team of the late-2000s containing graduates like Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Pedro and Sergio Busquets was appealing for Barcelona fans, the reality is that it’s more an acknowledgement of the club’s straitened financial situation. Continue reading