The Laporta Era Part One: The Ascendency

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The Laporta Era Part One: The Ascendency
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(Note: Because of the difficulty in summing up seven years of service, this article will be broken up into a series of three. If you notice any errors, please let me know).

Now that he is upon the end of his second term as president, Laporta is trying to ensure that his legacy is one marked by success, big name signings, and financial stability.

Despite this, like all previous presidents of Barca, his years as president have been known both for their glory and their controversy. While numerous Barca officials have engaged in a campaign of positive propaganda, a question still stains everybody's lips: How exactly will the Laporta years be remembered in the minds of Culers?

 

A Brief History of Time

Laporta was elected in the wake of the positively disastrous Gaspart-led crisis years, a short three year period following the two-decade reign of Josep Núñez. Laporta's two predecessors, particularly by the end of their careers, were largely unpopular, and were hided, whistled at, and booed by angry and disenchanted fans while attending matches.

Núñez was long considered one of the most successful of Barcelona's presidents, bringing in big name players like Maradonna, Schuster, Figo, Romario, Rivaldo, and Laudrup. Reinforced by a burgeoning Catalan contingent, he officially brought about and exemplified in the dream years, especially by the prolific midfielder, Josep Guardiola.

He also lured in big name coaches, among which are featured the former Barcelona star Johann Cruijff, the eminently popular Bobby Robson, and another prong of the Dutch influence on the Catalan capital in Louis van Gaal.

However, Núñez was an infamous spendthrift, refusing to pay high wages for great players, and was largely perceived as a stubborn old goat. He favored a strong top-down approach, which wasn't exactly loved by Culers, leading to an infamous feud between him and Cruijff.

His style and the growing opposition thereto boiled over in two famous events. The Hesperia Mutiny was a reaction to Núñez's refusal to pay high wages (thereby refusing merit-based recognition), as well as his iron-fisted rule over the club. The players quickly gave a press conference and demanded the resignation of the board.

A bloodbath ensued, resulting in the loss of nearly all of the players, coach Luis Aragones, and a shake-up of football philosophy. This saw the entrance of Cruijff.

Despite the success Cruijff brought with him back to the Camp Nou, the differences between him and Núñez simply could not be resolved. While Núñez wanted to run from the top down, opting to shove players into spots, Cruijff wanted more control over his squad.

Even though Cruijff proved to be the most successful and long serving manager in Barcelona history, he was sacked after a trophy-less two seasons and a 4-0 loss to Milan in the Champion's League.

Cruijff's departure saw a cleavage form in Culer and management between two opposing sides. The first, primarily composed of Núñez's administration, close friends, and devout fans, supported Núñez's approach to presidency. The second supported Cruijff and was primarily composed of myriad fans who enjoyed watching the beautiful football Cruijff brought back to Barcelona.

Of the latter, a young ambitious lawyer with strong nationalist leanings emerged to lead L'Elefant Blau, a group opposed to the Núñez style, and one which eventually passed a vote of no confidence against Núñez's administration.

Under mounting pressure from opposition and rampant criticisms, and the departures of players like Figo and Ronaldo (both eventually to rivals Real Madrid), Núñez and van Gaal resigned their posts as President and manager respectively.

 

Gaspart: Three Years of Solitude

After Núñez's resignation and the departures of world-class players and coaches alike, Barcelona soon fell into decline under president Joan Gaspart.

Gaspart served under Núñez as one of his vice-presidents, and was widely regarded as one of the best VPs in Barcelona history. Under the influence of Núñez's philosophy, Gaspart decided to extend the Barcelona signing policy, with a few alternations, most notably by refusing in principle to be as thrifty as Núñez. This policy was put into practice most notably right after Gaspart took over for Núñez.

With the big-spending Real coming to the fore and splashing millions for Barcelona hero Figo, Gaspart spent all the money gained on acquiring two players from Arsenal and a young midfielder weaned in the Barcelona youth system from Valencia.

After three years of promises of titles, Gaspart resigned his position while Barcelona fell in the table, finishing at a shocking sixth place in La Liga's 2002-2003 season.

The only consolation during these years was that along with the demise of the Barcelona, Real Madrid only averaged a third place position in a four year time period, winning the league once and dropping as far as fourth, marking the failure of Galacticos 1.0.

This reassured the Barcelona faithful that the approach employed by Núñez and his supporters was inherently doomed to failure, and the system which Barcelona should operate by (and which soon was employed by Laporta) precluded astronomical debts, moderate success, and crushing failure.

 

The Election, Nail Biting, Champion's League Qualification

The name Joan Laporta wasn't exactly common currency throughout Catalunya. Those who had an elephant's memory would recall him as the young crusader against the Núñez years by leading L'Elefant Blau, the group which tried without success to pass a vote of no confidence against the former president.

In the minds of others, he was just another candidate with empty phrases. This rapidly changed with the help of close friend Sandro Rosell, a young Catalan with close ties to big name corporations like Nike. Through charisma, a relatively aggressive marketing campaign, and a promise to bring English star David Beckham into the Camp Nou , Laporta toppled the favorite to win.

Beckham, however, had different plans, and while Laporta and his cronies were celebrating the victory, the Englishman signed for the quickly built Galacticos in Madrid. This disappointment was soon followed, however, by a period of quick and syncopated change.

Laporta set into motion his first big name signing by bringing in Brazilian and PSG star Ronaldinho, and hired Frank Rijkaard, protege of Johan Cruijff, as the new Barcelona manager. This was also the season that young talent Cesc Fabregas, sensing his playing time would be limited by Iniesta, Xavi, and internationals being brought in, decided to leave.

The first half of the season proved rough for the Dutchman and Laporta, with Barcelona finishing the first leg with an astounding 24 points. The team looked confused and disappointed in their loses to Valencia, Deportivo, Valladolid, and Malaga.

Then, Camp Nou suffered a major blow when Los Merengues beat Barca at home by a one goal margin, the first time Real Madrid won there for over a decade. Holding true to their reputation, members invested in the future of the club began calling for Laporta's and Rijkaard's heads. Coupled with the early defeat and elimination from the UEFA cup competition by stolid Celtic, this loss to Madrid fanned the flames, providing fodder to Laporta's infamous and growing opposition of Núñez supporters.

Most vociferously challenging Laporta was the recently banned Boixos Nois, a group of avid Barcelona supporters not above using violence and strong-arming to inflict their will. Vandalizations and death threats ran rampant with numerous board members often being the targets.

Laporta, however, received the kings ransom of the abuse, facing numerous death threats, his house being vandalized with signs of bull's eye targets, and physical violence (including a most infamous incident where seven Boixos Nois approached Laporta with the intent to jump him).

Even though the physical grandstanding never quite ended, the chastisement was muffled by Barcelona turning their misfortune around. Despite an unfortunate late departure from Copa del Rey competition at the hands at eventual victors Zaragoza, Barcelona waged a 17-game unbeaten streak, the longest in club history at the time, even beating Real Madrid in the Bernabeu with a stunner from Xavi and go-ahead from Kluivert.

By the end of the season, Laporta had neutralized a €150 million deficit in club spending, and FCB finished second— thus qualifying them for the Champions League—two points above fourth-placed Real Madrid, and five behind La Liga champions Valencia.

For now, Laporta has successfully quited the majority of his critics, but an undercurrent still persists, challenging his decisions at every turn throughout the summer and the year to come.

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