Few days ago I had the privilege to speak with former Barcelona president Joan Laporta. Although he’s a multimillionaire, and a very successful businessman, the conversation with him he seemed equal and modest. However, I and few other lucky people who sat down with him lost the track of time, as he is so interesting. He really is a special person, and you can see how he had the charisma to be in such a demanding job.
Laporta, who became the president of Barca in 2003, was just 41 years old at that time. For those of you who don’t remember, Barca was in one of its darkest eras, having qualified to the UEFA cup in the last match of the former season. Moreover, the club had severe financial problems, and couldn’t pay much money for transfers and salaries.
Johan Cruyff, one of Laporta’s closest friends, recommended Barca to sign Ronald Koeman or Guus Hiddinck as the new coach. However, Barca couldn’t afford the salaries of both of them, and instead Laporta went for Rijkaard.
Signing Ronaldinho instead of Beckham
The next move was the signing of Ronaldinho, after the club didn’t manage to sign David Beckham. The English midfielder was the promise of Joan Laporta’s campaign, and without this campaign he might never won the race:
Joan Laporta: “I heard about the ‘boot incident‘ of Beckham and his coach Alex Ferguson, so I knew that Manchester United looked to sell him. The next step was to reach a deal with Manchester United, and that was pretty easy. However, in that deal we had a confidentiality agreement in which both sides wasn’t supposed to speak about it.
The next day in a press conference a journalist asked me about the Beckham deal, so I confirmed it. It was a mistake because this happened before we spoke with the agent. I went with Sandro(Rossel) to Nice, where we talked with Beckham’s agents. At that time they said that Real Madrid also want him, but we thought they said it to increase that price.
We met with Beckham’s agents, gave him pictures of Barcelona, souvenirs of Gaudi, and other monuments, in order to make him feel comfortable. However, at that time he was pretty much secured for Real Madrid.”
After failing to sign David Beckham, Barca went to sign Ronaldinho, in one of the teams brightest moves ever. On that Joan Laporta had to say:
“Luckily for us, Roanldnho was too ugly for Real Madrid(laughs). So when we wanted to sign him, Madrid didn’t try to stop us.”
Difficulties in bringing Samuel Eto’o
Samuel Eto’o is one of Barca’s best forwards ever. However, signing him for Barca was a hard task. Madrid didn’t want the Cameroonian to sign for their arch rival.
Laporta: “Samuel wanted to come to Barcelona. But the economical rights of him was 50% Mallorca’s and 50% Real Madrid’s. In the first meeting that we had, we all sat together: Mallorca’s and Madrid’s presidents, and myself.
My first offer was 15 Million, which I already agreed with Mallorca’s president. At that time Mallorca’s president thought that Real Madrid would accept that offer, because they already had 3 foreign players and couldn’t sign Eto’o. Florentino’s response: ‘Mallorca doesn’t sell’. So I offered 20 million. However, Florentino answered again that ‘Mallorca doesn’t sell’, and he even promised that if I push too hard he will do his best to damage Barca.
Afterwards Samuel gave me a phone call. He said: ‘I know what happened and I’m very angry, tomorrow I will tell the press about all the black money Mallorca paid me!’. I begged him not to do that. “
Eventually securing the Cameroonian striker
Joan Laporta: “The evening before the flight to China to the summer tournament I had a meeting with a member of the new Mallorca’s board of directors. He said that Mallorca rejected the offer because the old members of Mallorca were Real Madrid’s fans. However ‘now most of the members support Barca, and if you offer 23 million we will accept’. Furthermore, he said that they will push Madrid to sell.
Afterwards I had a talk with Eto’o who was pushing for a deal, and before traveling to China I Sent a fax and made the offer. Florentino got mad again but I told him that we need a striker, Eto’o will come and Madrid will get a lot of money from the deal.
The contract between Mallorca and Madrid said that if Mallorca accept an offer, Madrid has 9 days to respond. When we came back to Barcelona we were waiting for the ‘no’ of Mallorca. However, Florentino called me and said ‘you got it’.
Samuel Eto’o was a fantastic, and he was thankful to me for bringing him. Every goal that Samuel scored he ran to the stands and saluted me. He’s very direct, and very smart. At that time we had 90 employees at the club, and all of them respected the structure. When they needed anything, they talked to who was in charge: Secretary, director etc. Samuel? He always came directly to me.”
The debut of Ronaldinho at midnight
Two things people remember from the debut of Ronaldinho at the Camp nou against Sevilla. The first thing is the magnificent goal he scored. The second is that the match started in the unusual hour of after midnight.
Joan Laporta: “What happened is that we had a match in the Champions League in Tuesday, and the Spanish FA said we have to play on Sunday. However, they didn’t say when we should play, so we decided to play at 00:01. We arrived to the match and surprisingly, the stadium was full of people from Barcelona, and Sevilla too. So we decided to give the fans gazpacho (Traditional Spanish tomato soup). Did you ever cook soup for 99 thousand people? We did it to respect the fans. “
Will you present your candidacy in the elections of 2021?
Joan Laporta: “2021 elections…is it in 2021(laughs)? I plan to come back, because I want to do it again. I think the club needs to build a new project. Although we have the privilege to have Messi, and he will be there in 2021. But it’s important to rebuild for the future.
I think that except the sporting era, everything changed at the club. They(the board) lie when they talk about the economical situation. We built the best Barca in history and without money we couldn’t do it.
The board used Qatar as a sponsor on the shirt, while we paid UNICEF and put their name on ours. They said that they needed the sponsor of Qatar because the club at that time didn’t have enough money, and that’s simply not true. They couldn’t say that at my time they didn’t do a good job in matter of sports.
But most people don’t really understand economics, so it’s easier for them(Sandro and Bartomeu) to damage me in the economic field. I was really upset about it because I knew the efforts that we put in order to make the club stable financially.
Furthermore, they hire too many people for jobs. When they want to hire a new executive, they don’t fire the other one, but relocate them to another position. The payroll is too high, with employees and also with players, and it’s not necessary. ”
Ditching the classic model of Barca
Joan Laporta: “They don’t follow our model, our system, and they always bringing technical staff who are not committed to our system. And I think that when you’re not loyal to your system, then happens things like what happened in Rome and Liverpool.
We played differently there because we were scared at that time. I think that we must be brave. The coach must be brave, and so is the board. And by brave, of course I mean using La masia players.
I was born a Barca fan and I will die a Barca fan. However, it bothers me that we lose our model, and I hope the club will return to its model.”
What do you think about Valverde?
Joan Laporta: “First of all, he’s a great man on a personal level. But I am as critic for him as you are as fans. I think you should follow the system and don’t spoil it. That’s what makes the difference, and that doesn’t matter if you play 343, 443 or 442.
With all the talent that we have at home, you have to use La Masia in order to sustain financially and football wise. For me it was a surprise, although I knew that he was not the biggest supporter of the Cruyff system. But I thought that he would promote players players from La masia, because I saw how he was at athletic. However, I think that part of it is the fault of the board who don’t encourage using the academy players enough.
For example, Frank Rijkaard let Messi play at the age of 16. Another coach wouldn’t take that risk. But he did it also with Pedro. Also, Pep Guardiola sold Yaya Toure in order to make room for Busquets. And Yaya was an amazing player, but when you have a player from home who can do the job, you should promote him. A homegrown player has more respect and love for the club.
Right now we have a board that prefers to go to the market in search for players. And Valverde is the type of coach who will never speak against the board.
Valverde is a nice person, and the players recognize it. But maybe he is too nice sometimes. However, Griezmann might help and maybe Neymar, and we could have a great season. If the stars will accept Griezmann, he will do great.
With Messi, Suarez, Griezmann, maybe Neymar…and Dembele(laughs) – We should have a great season.”
-And Ansu Fati?
“Oh I LOVE him! And I think he’s a proof that La Masia always produces talent, and you have to be brave and use them. Furthermore, you can see how a player who grows in the system can play as a 16 years old and blend with the rest of the team.”
Hiring Pep as a coach
Joan Laporta: “Why did I prefer Pep as a coach? Because he loves Barcelona. Furthermore, of course he’s brilliant coach who believes in the system and played under Cruyff. But most of all the man loves the team and its values.
At that time Pep managed the Barca B at the third division, but we preferred him instead of Mourinho. But we knew him and we expected good results under him. However, in reality the results were better than what we could ever expect, because we won everything.”
Rejecting an offer for Messi
Joan Laporta: “It was in 2006, when Inter’s owner Moratti offered me 250 million Euros. He offered this sum of money and I said no. I did not consider it for a minute, but my only concern was that I knew that Inter are pushing Messi’s father, Jorge.
I talked with the father and said to him that he will probably earn more money at Inter. However, here he will have the structure to become a great player, in a familiar zone, with the values that helped him since he was 13.
Fortunately, they decided to stay. Just imagine how the history would change if we sold Messi. “
Should Dembele have left the club?
Joan Laporta: “I don’t think so, because I think Dembele is really good. The problem with him is that he’s not stable, and the team should hire a tutor for him. But if the club will handle him, Dembele can turn into something really special.
I like Dembele because he is like a kid. Last season Dembele was the only player other than Messi who won important matches for Barca.”
The swap deal of Ibrahimovic and Eto’o
Joan Laporta: “When Pep arrived, he wanted 3 players to leave immediately: Ronaldinho, Deco and Eto’o. I was surprised when he told me about Eto’o, but Pep is a direct person, ‘a blood’ and he didn’t feel comfortable with another ‘blood’ like Eto’o. However, as the preseason went by, Pep said that he’s ok with him staying, but only if he’s the thirs striker after Henry and Bojan.
Furthermore, when Messi came back from the Olimpics, he said that he feels comfortable with Eto’o, and then Pep decided he could handle him. In the end Eto’o had a magnificent season and was the pichichi.
In the end of the season Pep called me and said he can’t handle Eto’o anymore, in terms of ‘feeling’. He wanted us to bring a new forward, and to sell Eto’o. Pep talked about Forlan, maybe Dani Guiza. However, the only club who could take Eto’o, pay him more money and play at the UCL. So the option of Ibrahimovic came along.
However, Ibra had 4 more seasons in his contract, and Eto’o was in the last year of his, so we had to pay much more money. “
Will Xavi coach Barcelona?
Joan Laporta: “I want Xavi to be Barca coach. I think he’s preparing to become Barca coach. However, I would prefer him to go to a team like Girona or Barca B and not straight to the first team.”
Leo Messi’s condition
Joan Laporta: “Of course he’s the best. However, what I like to see is that he matured a lot as a person. The way he talks to the players and the fans, he became a real captain. For someone like me who remembers him as a kid its really great.”