While Barcelona FC is making one headline after the other with their on-field feats, the management of the club has been plagued by institutional chaos for quite some time. When club president Sandro Rosell was sacked in January 2014 amidst allegations of tax fraud, Josep Maria Bartomeu who was his deputy at that time took over the reins. Since then he has been Barcelona FC’s acting-president. The club’s next election was slated to take placed in 2016 but amid much clamor from the fans and press Bartomeu advanced the date to as early as 18th July this year. What has made the race for the club presidency more interesting is the advent of Joan Laporta. Bartomeu who will be contesting for the post too will be no push-over. But Laporta is no stranger to such situations. He was the club president from 2003 to 2010.
Few can forget when he flew over to Holland during the very first year he took over the reins and picked one Lionel Messi who was playing for Argentina in the Under-17 World Cup being held there. Many considered him absolutely out of his depths when he chose a very inexperienced Josep “Pep” Gaurdiola in 2008 as team coach-cum-manager. But just look what Pep Gauardiola did to Barcelona and Messi in the years to follow! He almost signed David Beckham in 2003, but the Englishman expressed his desire to go to Real Madrid instead. Risk-taking is Laporta’s forte and many a time it has paid off; which is why fans of the Catalan club want him re-elected.
Although Bartomeu has a treble of championships for the Blaugrana to show during his brief tenure, Laporta’s achievements are by no means less – 4 La Liga titles, 1 Copa del Rey, 3 Spanish Super Cups and 2 UEFA Champions League titles in his 7-year tenure as president.
Laporta is no stranger to politics, too. A staunch Catalan pro-independence advocate, he formed the Democracia Catalana party in 2010. In the region’s elections of that year, his party managed to garner 4 seats of the 135 that make up the Catalan Parliament. The Democracia Catalana later morphed into the Catalan Solidarity for Independence party from whose presidency he stepped down in 2011.
His support for Catalan’s independence from Spain gives his popularity in the region lot of teeth and relegates to the background accusations such as mixing sports with politics and being financially irresponsible. He has also made the popular move to name Barcelona legend Carlos Puyol the sporting director. Doing away with the Qatar sponsorship deal and restoring the UNICEF name on Blaugrana shirts are two of his promises that have won many Catalan hearts.
The pitch made by this 53-year old lawyer and former politician is simple “Barça is Cryuff, Masia, Catalonia and UNICEF” and he swears to stand by it. The third week of July will tell us if Laporta will be around to chase his dreams. The odds are that he will.