Joan Laporta is back on the scene in Barcelona and that can only spell bad news for fans of the club.
Synonymous with the unprecedented success of the Pep Guardiola era, this Catalan lawyer is one slippery customer. Perhaps even more so than his much-derided successor Sandro Rosell.
The trophies that were won during his tenure as president of the club seem to have conveniently glossed over the incredible financial mismanagement during his time at Camp Nou.
Let's be clear. Rosell himself deserved to fall on his own sword and his "whiter than white" election campaign was a little embarrassing to say the least.
But the concerns that his administration raised were relevant and genuine.
ESPN note a report by AS which says:
Earlier this week, Spanish judge Jose Manuel Martinez Borreguero ruled that neither Laporta nor 16 of his fellow ex-directors would have to pay the 47.6 million euros sought by the Blaugrana for losses generated when the club was under Laporta's control.
The current Barca board, which was led initially by Sandro Rosell and followed by Josep Maria Bartomeu, charged in court that Laporta had altered the club's accounts in the final year of his mandate to convert a 79.6 million-euro loss into an 11.1 million-euro profit.
The net result of the Laporta era, according to Rosell, was a loss of 47.6 million euros, and he took action after consulting with club members to pursue his predecessor for the money.
Even though that would appear to put Laporta in the clear for another crack at the top job, the facts speak for themselves.
Indeed, renowned accounting firm Deloitte, who were instructed to carry out a detailed audit by Rosell upon takeover, uncovered a very different scenario to the picture Laporta was painting at the time. Per BBC Sport:
A new audit into Barcelona's finances have revealed the club's debt is 442m euros (£369.5m) after a loss of more than 77m euros (£64.36m) last season.
The previous board, led by Joan Laporta, had announced the club was 11m euros in the black at the end of June.
But a new audit carried out by Deloitte for new president Sandro Rosell's team reveals a far less healthy scenario.
[...] The audit shows that Barca's costs in the 2009-10 season rose to £400m, with their income at £341.7m.
Barca also had to recently take out a loan of around £125m after falling behind with the payment of player wages at the end of June, while central defender Dymtro Chygrynskiy was hastily sold to Shakhtar Donetsk to raise much-needed funds for the club.
TotalBarca went a step further in setting out the differences between the Laporta and Rosell regimes at the time:
As you can see there is a difference of 88 million Euros. Here is why:
Joan Gamper Sant Joan Despí land sale – 21.5 million. Only 1 million has been received so far. This money was not included as income by the auditor.
Mediapro TV contract – 16 million were included from a deal with Mediapro where the club will get 4 million until 2013 for TV rights. Only 4 million were included by the auditor.
Mediapro legal dispute – There is also a legal dispute with Mediapro where Barca would get 13 million back from them (in case of winning the dispute). The auditor only took 50% into account.
Henry’s last year amortization value – 8.2 million – This was not included by the auditor since Henry will not complete his last year in Barca.
Baena’s indemnisation – there is a legal dispute with Espanyol for this player’s transfer which could give Barca 3.9 millions (if Barca wins the legal dispute) – Not included by the auditor.
Villa Decans lands – These lands were estimated to have a value of 17 million euros by a appraiser consultant hired by Laporta but the new management got this estimate from an actual certified appraiser who valued the land in 5.7 millions. Auditor included 50% of the difference between both amounts.
Sogecable’s contract – there is also a legal dispute against Sogecable for TV rights that could give Barca 25 million euros back. – This was not included since Barca lost the first sitting of this dispute.
Given Laporta's legal background, it's not too difficult to imagine the spin that he and his board wished to put on what was, effectively, a ruinous situation were it allowed to continue for much longer.
Good looking, personable and evidently much more charismatic than both Rosell and Bartomeu, it's important to remember that during the elections of 2003, Laporta started well behind the favourites with a manifesto that didn't particularly appeal in the initial stages.
A promise to deliver David Beckham to Barcelona was possibly the single most significant statement which began to win the voters round, but it was a promise he failed to deliver. Ronaldinho was a more-than-adequate replacement, but Rosell and others soon saw through the flashy exterior.
The fallout between the two former friends was a huge PR gaffe for the club, and the poison and vitriol on both sides threatened to derail any on-pitch success.
There are also misapprehensions that Pep Guardiola was always squarely behind his boss Laporta, but an extract from Marti Perarnau's book—Pep Confidential: The Inside Story of Pep Guardiola's First Season at Bayern Munich—suggests this was often completely wide of the mark. Via Goal.com, Perarnau notes:
He had found in Joan Laporta a dynamic but pushy man who possessed volcanic energy and who could be supportive one minute and undermining the next.
[...] Guardiola balanced the at-times hysterical behaviour of Laporta with his own calm sobriety.
[...] Relations with neither president were simple. Pep managed to deal calmly and quietly with Laporta’s histrionic outbursts [...] At times Pep felt like the captain of a ponderous ocean liner as he fought to steer the team in one direction whilst the club pulled in the other. No decision was straightforward...
The incessant arrival of silverware appeared to soothe the Barcelona socio members brows and arguably were happy to overlook any shortcomings in the Laporta administration.
Since the Spanish courts found in his favour earlier in the week, Laporta himself has wasted no time in putting the knife into the Rosell/Bartomeu administration, suggesting at a press conference via ESPN that the "legal action was borne of resentment" and furthermore that:
My position is that they [Barcelona board] tell the truth. If they do that, it will be magnificent. The situation has been brought to life by this verdict. Based on what those currently responsible [at Barcelona] have done and are doing, I wouldn't rule out running in the next election.
Should Laporta find enough support to consider doing just that, then Barcelona fans everywhere need to choose wisely.
Do the signings of Neymar and Luis Suarez, and putting a sponsor on the Blaugrana shirt really override the continued good health of the organisation?
A question of style over substance. You choose...