Probably the first time many people heard of Joan Laporta was during the campaigning that preceded FC Barcelona’s presidential elections in 2003. Joan Gaspart had just stepped down from the position he had filled since 2000, with morale at the club at a low after a series of disastrous seasons coinciding with falling attendances and mounting debts.
Laporta’s election promise was simple; if he were voted president he would sign David Beckham, a move that immediately raised his profile both in Barcelona and in the UK, won him tremendous support, and helped catapult him past Lluis Bassat, the presidential favourite.
Elected in June 2003 he soon found that he was unable to keep his promise and David Beckham went to Real Madrid instead – fortunate as it turned out as he failed to live up to his reputation at all.
However, despite his initial setback Laporta’s deputy, Sandro Rossell, was able to sign a Brazilian player instead, Ronaldo de Assis Moreira - better known throughout the world as Ronaldinho. Also requiring a new team manager, Laporta’s team raised a few eyebrows with the appointment of Frank Rijkaard to the role, due to his relative inexperience and vowed to fight football violence, something his predecessor had overlooked.
With low player morale, the start of the season saw virtually no change in performance and Barcelona fans were calling for changes – many people thought that Rijkaard should go, in favour of someone with the experience to turn the team around.
Barcelona’s relative lack of success continued until half way though the season, and suddenly things started to gel. Edgar Davids was loaned from Juventus for the remainder of the 2003-2004 season and although he worked well with Ronaldinho and was popular with fans he was unable to agree terms to remain with the club. After that shaky start, Laporta’s first year of reign saw the club achieve what many of their fans thought impossible; they came second in the league to Valencia and earned a place in Champions League for the following year.
With Davids gone the search was on to reinforce the front of the team, as well as sweep out some of the players associated with the old guard. The rash of signings included Cameroon player Samuel Eto’o, as well as Deco and Giuly. All was not going well inside the club though, with Laporta and Rossell in frequent dispute and Rossell reportedly wanting to change Rijkaard despite the season’s result, and accusing the management team of being influenced by former Barça player Johan Cruyff.
Barcelona made a good start to the 2004-2005 season and playing consistently and honing Rijkaard’s strategy of dominating the opposing team in its own area, Barcelona beat Real Madrid 3-0 at Santiago Bernabeu in the November, earning a round of applause from the home supporters. The strong performance lasted the entire season and saw Barcelona finish at the top of the league, although Chelsea knocked them out of Champions League.
This didn’t stop Sandro Rossell and four other directors of FC Barcelona from waging war inside the club in a curiously ill-timed rebellion. Eventually Joan Laporta asked for public clarification of where these dissident directors stood; the five resigned in June 2005.
Barcelona’s following season was even more successful, with both the domestic and Champions League titles; this time it was Barcelona who knocked Chelsea out of Champions League and went on to win the title against Arsenal. However there was more trouble over the term of Laporta’s presidency, with a court decision that the elections should have been called in June.
In the end the election didn’t take place – although set for September there was no candidate with enough backing to oppose him and so Joan Laporta remains president to this day.
David Leigh recommends visiting the home of FC Barcelona , Camp Nou. The museum and stadium tour is available all day on Monday-Saturday or Sunday mornings.