On the night of March 7, a new era began in Barcelona Football Club, as the Spanish giants elected Joan Laporta as its 42nd president.
The club’s presidential election was scheduled following the resignation of former president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, late October.
Laporta was up against two other contestants, Victor Font and Toni Freixa, who he defeated with more than 54.28 percent of the votes. Laporta polled 30,184 votes against Font’s 16,679 and Freixa’s 4,769 to become Barcelona’s president for the second time.
His previous presidency that ran from June 2003 to June 2010 set Barcelona on a revolutionary transformation which started with the appointment of Pep Guardiola as the first team coach, and his ingenious tiki-taka style of play that made the Catalan side a delight-to-watch-sextuple-winning-team.
“First of all I want to thank everyone who has participated in these elections, which have been the most important in our history due to the pandemic, which has changed our lives,” Laporta said after winning the election.
However, emerging as the president of one of the biggest club’s in Europe in time of internal and external crises sets Laporta up for mammoth of challenges.
Prior to Bartomeu’s resignation, Barcelona was reeling on poor performances that had characterized the club throughout Bartomeu’s reign as the president, except for a few seasons.
The crises were fueled by the horror of last season’s Champions League match against Bayern Munich – or so everyone thought, where the German side handed Barcelona 8-2 demolition, in its most humiliating campaign in the Champions League in recent times.
In the wake of the demolition, Lionel Messi, Barcelona’s captain and backbone, who has been mainly carrying the shame and ridicule of the failures, called it quits. His reasons include many woeful outings of the club in European competition in preceding seasons that saw Barcelona losing semi-final matches 1-4 to AS Roma, after a 3-1 first leg lead, and 0-4 to Liverpool after a 3-0 lead, forcing Messi to break his promise of Champions League trophy to curlers. The most devastating part of it all was how humiliating the losses were.
The Argentine astro also mentioned mismanagement by Bartomeu and his board and lack of projects in the club, which inadvertently, became the bane of talent development in the once most enviable football club in the world.
Thus, Messi’s decision to leave Barcelona, his childhood club, presents Laporta’s second coming with a helluva task, besides steering the club to winning ways, to convince the sixth-time ballon d’or winner to stay at Camp Nou.
Messi was at Camp Nou Sunday night to cast his vote for the first time as Barcelona player, and Laporta believes it’s a sign that the 33-year old will commit his future to the club.
“Today, 20 years ago, Messi made his debut for Barca’s youth teams. The fact that the best player in the world came to vote today, along with his son, is proof that Leo Messi loves Barca… we are going to encourage him to continue at FC Barcelona, which is what we all want,” he said.
The charismatic lawyer, who spent his post presidency years in mainstream politics, will, besides convincing Messi to stay, face the piling debt of the club. Barcelona’s short-term debts needed to be paid off this year stands around €1 billion. With the pandemic, which has forced matches to be played indoors, killing any chance for the club to raise money through ticket sales, the new president will need more than a miracle to pay off the debts.
While the debt burden rages, Barcelona’s depleted team needs revamp that will involve selling off old players and buying new ones to replace them. After selling Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, and Arturo Vidal last summer, the club didn’t buy new players with the level of experience of those it let go. Moreover, it will require a lot of money that the Azulgranas don’t have, to pull it off.
There is also a need to rehabilitate the Camp Nou. In an interview in December, interim president Carles Tusquests explained that the stadium is literally falling apart and needs urgent repairs. He also said that urgent work needs to be done on the training facilities as well.
The projects mentioned by Messi include building a strong La Masia, buying and developing young players in the Team B and C of the club, but it also requires huge resources that Barcelona apparently does not have now.
With these intertwined challenges requiring each, a huge financial commitment, all eyes are on Laporta to perform a miracle.
Messi agreeing to renew his contract with Barcelona may be not be as hard as everyone thinks, but Barcelona generating the money to finance the contract is where the real challenge lies.
Laporta’s victory statement suggests that Barcelona may appeal to fans to make donations to tackle the financial woes.
“This great family that is FC Barcelona will overcome these difficulties and we will achieve the objectives that we have set for ourselves. I would ask all Barca fans not to think about what Barca will do for you, think about what you can do for Barca,” he said.