Santiago is a life-long F.C Barcelona's fan, following club's success and suffering his recent failure.
Signings, titles, renovation and sponsors
Laporta's new strategy should be motivated towards taking Barcelona to football's top-spot again, while saving its financial situation.
Signing star players to build the team around, finding sponsorship from associates, fans and new companies, as well as renovating an aged team, must be around the president's thoughts if he wants to save a sinking boat.
Més Que Un Club
Laporta first arrived at Barcelona's presidency in 2003, and helped the catalans achieve Spanish Leagues, Champions Leagues and to create (with the guideance of masterminds like Cruyff or Guardiola) an unrepeatable playing style, as well as the biggest club of the 21st century, so far, according to IFFHS. During his spell as president (2003-2010) he won 4 Spanish Leagues, 1 Copa del Rey, 3 Spanish Supercups, 2 Champions Leagues, 1 European Supercup and 1 Clubs World Cup.
After his presidency, Sandro Rosell was named Barcelona's president and, after an investigation for money laundry, and some charges derived from irregularities surrounding Neymar's signing, he resinged in 2014, leaving his former vicepresident Josep Maria Bartomeu as the club president.
Bartomeu's first big issue was when FIFA's disciplinary comitee forbade F.C Barcelona from signing players for one year, after economic scandals caused by underage players' contracts and irregularities in Neymar's signing from Santos F.C. After that, and after a sporting failure during the 2013-14 season (added to changing coach), Bartomeu appointed Luis Enrique as head coach, and with the help of new signings like Ter Stegen, Rakitic and Luis Suárez (although he was carrying sanction for biting Chiellini on Brazil's World Cup) Barcelona won the Treble for second time in Barcelona's history. That euphoria helped him in 2015, when he won the elections and was officialized as Barcelona's president.
What bad decisions lead to
From that moment, Bartomeu's decisons started working, not only against him, but the club, the executives, the players and ultimately the fans. Starting with several changes in his team (specially in the position of sporting director), Bartomeu managed poorly the "office" decisions. For example, as mentioned before, the club had partnerships with Qatar Airways and Qatar Foundation but, when negotiating for renewal, Bartomeu asked for more money, which infureated his counterparts and the deal was cut-off. (Marca)
Then, Bartomeu saw how big figures inside the club like Lionel Messi or Gerard Piqué, as well as some board members, were more influencial than him, so, according to reports, he hired advertising agencies to start campaigns to discredit these powerful figures in social media, in what now is called "Barca gate", which ultimately cost him his position. (Mundo Deportivo)
Connecting with football-related decisions, Bartomeu changed the club's head coach several times, not being able to build a process like was done before with Rijkaard or Guardiola. Also, he was caught up in renovating the team, keeping aged and experienced players, and expecting them to work physically as if they were youngsters, leading to continental failure, seen in Turin, Rome, Liverpool and lastly against Bayern Munchen (2-8) in Lisboa.
His signing policy was never truly clear, investing big amounts in young players with little to none path which ended up in flaws, exchanging young players with potential for footballers in their 30's and; instead of buying stars or young known prospects, insisting in personal whims like Coutinho or Griezmann, or spending near 20 million in players better suited for mid-table teams like Braithwaite (28 at the time) to give some rest to Luis Suárez (33 at the time), but that would be discussed later.
Approaching the end of his spell as president, the last bomb was dropped: Lionel Messi wanted to leave Barcelona. But not just that, the argentinean striker informed it through a "Burofax", which was publicly exposed, showing the fracture existing between Bartomeu and Messi. This was in everyone's mouth in 2020 (mid-pandemic) and ended in a legal war "won" by Bartomeu, when Messi decided to stay one more season and extend his contract. Probably Bartomeu thought that the subject would be easily forgotten, but a series of declarations surrounding Messi's environment showed that he had been tricked by Bartomeu and he was never truly capable of leaving, as well as bieng told that the club would support his decision, but then being almost sued for wanting to leave according to certain conditions in his contract.
At the end, Bartomeu resigned, Messi postponed his decision and Laporta won the 2021 elections, with the challenge of giving Barcelona another rebirth, like the one in 2003.
What to do next?
Laporta has the experience, the skill and the "contacts" to help Barcelona leave the struggle, to make it competitive again and to return the club to where it belongs.
With what the club has as of today, Laporta has 4 important matters to attend:
According to Transfermarkt, Barcelona's age average is 25,6 years. Even though it is not that elevated, the team still relies on "old" players, like Piqué (34), Alba (32), Busquets (32) and even Messi (33). Nonetheless, these players are really important, which means that the goal is not to get rid of them, but use them as mentors for new blood, as well as giving them a secondary part on the team to prevent physical inferiority on the pitch as seen before.
As well, players like Dembélé are on the verge of signing new contracts, meaning Laporta's board have choices to make, more importantly now that the world is going through the pandemic.
Another important decision affects the future of Ronald Koeman who, during the 2020-21 has seen how the team has changed and, even though the team was eliminated from the Champions League, Barcelona is now contender in the Spanish League, showing every match a better playing style, specially regarding to youngsters development (Pedri, Mingueza, Fati, Moriba and Dest, among others, have seen chances increase with Koeman on the sideline). This decision might be influenced by the potencially acclaimed appointing of Xavi as head coach.
Laporta started by auditing the club's finances, showing terrible numbers that have to be corrected. He already has mentioned some strategies to help the club's economy (like encouraging fans to support financially), but he sould seek partnerships like the ones from Qatar if he wants to place the club on the top once again.
Probably the biggest decision, not only to fans, but also to possible success, economy and to all the catalan institution. The Messi situation is different that what it was with Bartomeu, motivated not only by the recent success of the team and the good image given with Koeman, but also due to his close relationship with Laporta. The new president has stated that he wants Messi to stay, and has almost begged him publicly, but he has also said that, if Messi leaves, he has a plan to cushion his loss.
The dilemma relies on certain points. First, even though Leo is determinant for the team, he is 33 years old, and his physique is slowly getting worse. Second, financially, Messi's contract is something near ridiculous, and for an institution in crisis, getting rid of it could solve some problems. The problem starts when fans stop buying merch and attenting the stadium, and the sponsors change their attention to a different team that hosts the argentinean star. And obviously, letting go probably the biggest club legend is a difficult emotional hit, that Laporta has to balance with other factors.
After a decision regarding budgets and Messi, Laporta has to think on signings, appointments and even on a new stadium for fans to be motivated with the club.
Barcelona's team has to be given new fresh air, and the best way to do it is with new faces. If Laporta decides to cut some zeros off some big contracts, and to put big names on the market, the club might be able to take new reinforcements. And not only those "cost-zero" like Eric García (almost 100% confirmed) or Wijnaldum (30-year old might not be "freshening up" the team). The same with Agüero, with the difference that it could mean an important factor for Messi staying.
Barcelona needs a new star. Like Suárez or Neymar, Laporta needs to get a new star to help Messi achieve his goals, and, at the end, to carry the franchise when Leo is not around anymore. And that name is Erling Haaland.
The norweigan striker, playing currently for Borussia Dortmund, could be a culer right now, but Bartomeu dismissed the signing and ended up signing Braithwaite for the same money. Now, his price is near 200 million euros but, with the budget adjustment mentioned before and with the contacts owned by Laporta (very good relationship with Riaola, Haaland's agent), the signing every day seems more possible. Getting the striker will not only help morally, but it will attract more sponsors, more fans, and potentially give more sporting success to Barcelona.
Starting with his new board, which would probably feature Jordi Cruyff, Johan's son, Laporta has the mission to make Barcelona a lot more culé. For example, few people understand why Carles Puyol, a mythical captain, is not part of Barcelona's staff, as well as many other legends. But most importantly, what to do with Xavi Hernández?
Xavi has been coaching in Qatar for several years, showing some of the "Tiki-Taka" philosophy in his game and winning several titles. This, added to the fact that he is a living legend for Barcelona and that he has expressed his intentions to return, have placed Xavi in the spotlight for being the head coach for a couple of years now.
He might be ready for the position, and might give a morale boost to the team, but it will mean that the playing style, signings policy, players, and many other factors would have to be adjusted once again. And with a team going through rebuilding, placing an unexperienced coach, specially being a legend, can backfire, and he could be somewhat stained on the eyes of fans. Personally, Laporta should bet on Koeman and his philosophy to rebuilt the team like he did with Rijkaard in 2003, and get Xavi as Guardiola, with a better team, and with a club less sunk on crisis.
Joan Laporta has a lot of challenges to confront, but barcelonism has high hopes on his ability to lead the institution and to place it on the top of football once again.
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© 2021 Santiago Criales