Barcelona President Joan Laporta: what promises were made?
On Sunday evening it was announced that Joan Laporta had won the vote to become the new president of the Catalan club. What promises can fans look forward to being kept?
After weeks of delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Barcelona at last held their presidential elections on Sunday 7 March and put their trust in Joan Laporta leading them to a prosperous future.
FC Barcelona voting for a new beginning
More than 111,000 members, or socios, cast their vote either in person at polling stations or by mail to determine who will succeed Josep Maria Bartomeu in the top job. Bartomeu stepped down last October, just days before a scheduled vote of no confidence against his board, but interim president Carlos Tusquets has hardly had an easy few months since.
🗳 2021 ELECTION— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 7, 2021
Over 50% of the vote has been counted. pic.twitter.com/oC6BN9C0Lk
As well as a delay in the hustings, which were initially set for 24 January, Barça's off-the-pitch concerns have been exacerbated by official debt levels of more than €1billion and a legal investigation that involves Bartomeu, who was provisionally released under charges of unfair administration and corruption of business on 3 March.
Meanwhile, the men's senior football team requires an overhaul made even more difficult by the economic damage wrought by covid-19, with Ronald Koeman's men chasing Atletico Madrid in LaLiga and facing a likely Champions League exit to Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16.
The presidency has therefore become arguably the toughest job in elite football and could have a significant impact on the medium-term future of the club.
There were three men in the race for the presidency: Joan Laporta, Toni Freixa and Victor Font.
FC Barcelona president: Joan Laporta
The favourite is Laporta, who previously held the post from 2003 to 2010, one of Barca's most successful periods that saw them win 12 major trophies, including their first treble under Pep Guardiola in 2009. He remains popular with a large part of the fan base and is arguably the candidate on best terms with Lionel Messi.
Laporta hasn’t just won, he’s won by absolutely *miles*. (And given the broad similarities ‘ideologically’ with Font, who is second a long way ahead of Freixa, this is also a gigantic rejection of any idea of continuity of the outgoing regime)— Sid Lowe (@sidlowe) March 7, 2021
The message from Laporta's camp is simple: "We are a group of Barça fans with ideas for the future and the experience to carry them out." He promises to focus on "social and human" results, as well as those on the pitch and in financial statements. He has vowed to put faith back in academy products from La Masia to complement the first-team stars, while he insists he is the best chance Barça have of convincing Messi to sign a contract extension.
Ronald Koeman has rightly become fed up with questions over his future and will be glad when Sunday's elections are over and he can find out from the new president what his job prospects look like.
While there can be few guarantees for any coach – Barça could still win the treble this season, or end up with nothing – it feels unlikely Koeman will be in charge for 2021-22.
Laporta has reportedly considered offering the job to Arsenal's Mikel Arteta, having previously struck gold with former players when he gave the inexperienced Guardiola a shot back in 2008.
Transfer spending spree?
Barca's dire financial situation makes star signings, the kind on which many past club elections in Spain have been based, a very difficult thing to expect.
Laporta's priority is to build a competitive side around their club captain... but what this means we'll have to wait and see. Regarding Messi, Laporta claims electing him will give Barça the best chance of convincing Messi to stay.
The Argentina star broke into the first team during Laporta's previous presidency and enjoyed great success in that spell, including winning the Champions League – the trophy he covets most – under Frank Rijkaard and Guardiola.
Who were the other candidates?
Freixa, who campaigned unsuccessfully in 2015, previously advised Laporta's board of directors and served as spokesperson under Sandro Rosell and Bartomeu, and has been involved with the club for 18 years. His knowledge and experience of working for different administrations at Camp Nou could be key.
Font, meanwhile, is banking on the support of those members who feel a fresh approach is needed. A successful entrepreneur, his expertise lies in telecommunication, media and technology, but his vision for Barca's future has been worked on since 2013 and perhaps represents the most prudent option available.
What did the others promise?
Freixa's campaign – Fidels al Barça, or 'True to Barça' – is, he says, "a candidacy for the people, free of outside interests". Following a member-first approach, he has vowed to correct Barca's crippling €1.2billion debt levels without the need for outside investors. Freixa's focus is on weaponising the club's passionate supporters: he wants to pack out the stadium "with Barca fans, not tourists", with reward schemes in place for the most loyal followers, and make sure the planned Espai Barca redevelopment of the stadium and surrounding area does not compromise the club's image.
Font has been building his 'Yes to the Future' campaign for the best part of eight years. Founded on "new blood and good governance", his is an honest approach: accepting the club have reached "an historic crossroads" that requires professional experience to navigate, he says his project has the groundwork and the expertise to be by far the most viable for the club's future. His plan is "to revamp collectively the club and to ensure that Barca can contribute in a tangible way to making the world a better place".
Font has adopted by far the more prudent approach, warning fans that selling high-earning under-performers and restructuring the wage bill is essential to stave off a deepening financial crisis, but that is not a policy that will appease fans desperate to see Barca challenging for the Champions League again.
Freixa has gone for the Hail Mary, insisting signing Kylian Mbappe AND Erling Haaland would be perfectly possible and that he has an investor lined up who could bolster the club to the tune of €250m through a stake in Barca Corporate.
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