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Joan Laporta: “Transition seasons do not exist at Barça.”

Joan Laporta posing for ARA. (Source: PERE VIRGILI via ara.cat)

DiariARA conducted an interview with Joan Laporta, former president of Barça from 2003-2010 and pre-candidate for the presidential elections to be held in January 2021. In this interview, Laporta addressed important issues such as the team’s current form, the economic situation, Messi, Xavi, and Victor Font.

Below is the transcript of the interview in full:

Have you imagined representing Barça at Anfield, Stamford Bridge, the Allianz Arena or the Etihad in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16?
Yes. I feel like it. And hopefully it comes. I will do what is in my power to convince the Barça members.

How do you rate the season so far? Was the team expected to be ninth in the League, 12 points behind the leader and qualify as second in the group in the Champions League?
I was expecting that it wouldn’t go very well, but maybe not at these levels. It is clear that everything affects the performance of the team. The news of the summer, the lack of public in the stadiums, a new coach, a new system. Projects take time. We have been half a season and things are not working.

Are we taking this “transition season” too literally? Don’t you think that Barça, despite the difficulties of the year, is competing below the capabilities of its squad?
I don’t think that at Barça there are transitional seasons. Barça remains very good, but the culés are demanding because we are very used to it. Transitions, at Barça, do not exist.

We are seeing a moderate, conciliatory Laporta. He contrasts with the passionate Laporta of the past. Is it strategy or is it that time has changed?
I continue to be the same as always, but these times require rigor, seriousness, and being focused on what needs to be done. These are not moments to get carried away by passion. Timing is critical. I have the experience and determination to turn the situation around. I have done it before and I feel with this conviction. We have to take very serious measures. We have to reduce expenses, increase income and make correct decisions in the sports section. I am convinced that we will change Barça.

Could you be more precise with the economic shock plan that you say you have in place?
I refer to the monograph that we will do. I don’t want us to get ahead of ourselves. We have prepared a plan that goes along the lines of reducing expenses in relation to the expected income, which will be at most 661 million. And the expenses are 955 million. This imbalance will have to be corrected. And then we will have to take care of a debt of almost 1,000 million.

Are these the first elections in which you are more interested in the economic part than the sports part?
If we want the virtuous circle to turn, and recover in sports, we must recover the club’s economy. Perhaps where more imagination is needed is with new sources of income. We have to work to generate 350 million. We will get it for sure. The point is to do it in the shortest possible time.

Talk about campaign signings?
We have a team competing in the middle of the season. High quality players. I know how it can destabilize any manifestation of the environment. Footballers find out about everything and I don’t want to destabilize them by entering into this dynamic. And it would be very easy for me because I have already been president of the club, because the clubs and the representatives know me and call me. They make proposals to me because Barça, chaired by me, generates interest, a lot of interest.

Did Bartomeu exceed the salary expense with the first team?
The ratio recommended by the football industry has not been taken into account, which is to put the wage bill between 55% and 62% of total income. When we arrived in 2003 there was also this problem. When you go 75% or 80% it is ungovernable. And it is something that only depends on the board. If you fall into the trap of the protruding joint, what happens happens. However, the information we have does not correspond to accounts audited or approved by the assembly. Respect, yes. Alarmism, no. There are possibilities to reverse the situation. You have to work, work and work.

Is all this compatible with renewing the best player in history?
Yes. It has to be tried. For the interest of the club.

It would be convenient for Messi to communicate his intentions as soon as possible the better. Will you talk to him before the election or will it wait?
It is a matter of credibility. I have a personal relationship with Leo and I know that money is not the most important thing for him. We have to make a proposal with a competitive team. He wants to win Champions. He has a few years of career left and he wants to take advantage of them by winning. If we make him a competitive proposal, we won’t have many obstacles for him to agree to renew.

What if he commits to another team before the election?
If I were him I would wait. There are offers that can make him big money, offers that can make him play with teammates that he wants to meet again, offers that would make him play on a competitive team, and offers that can combine it all. Leo wants Barça. He knows how important he is to the club. Sometimes it is said that he charges a lot of money, but what about the ones he generates? It is a claim. I have been president and I have seen contracts of friendly matches conditioned on the participation of Leo. Everybody wants to be close to him.

And if Messi does not continue?
We will find other avenues of income. Barça has a history and is a reference in the world of football. I want to work so that we are the reference, like when I was president. And also to return to having a financially solvent club, committed to society and sending a message to the world through its shirt. Leo would help us a lot. And if we do not convince him, the club will continue. Of course, having recognized everything he has done for Barça.

We are talking about a player who sent a burofax in which he said that he wanted to leave. Wouldn’t it be an act of Barça maturity to assume this will?
If he is like this, it is because the outgoing board got him, which is the worst thing you can do to a player. My relationship with Leo is based on trust and credibility. He always says: “Everything you have told me you have fulfilled.” But to make a proposal I need to have the authority to be president. Then the proposal that I will make he knows that I will fulfill it. He is hurt because they have deceived him and made him responsible for situations that did not correspond to him. Now [Bartomeu and his board] are gone, but he’s still angry. We all want to see Leo smiling. If he waits for the new president’s proposal, which I hope it is me, he will smile again.

Is it harsh that Bartomeu gave Koeman the job after 2-8?
Koeman is Dream Team, Wembley, the goal of the 111th minute… The margin he has on the bench will be determined by the results and the pattern of play. Our philosophy is Cruyffista and in favor of 4-3-3. He is looking for solutions.

Would you like Xavi to be a Barça coach?
He will be, for sure. I have a very good relationship with him and it is what he wants the most. There are players who want to distance themselves from football when they retire, but Xavi is not one of these.

Are you concerned about his connection to Víctor Font’s project?
Font has been attributed to Xavi and he is very respectable. Let him do what he thinks is fair.

Will you continue to rely on the classic structure of coach, sporting director and vice president?
Evolved, but yes. The players, to play and to be valued. The coach, to train. The technical secretary, in tune with the coach, and the board, with the president, to make the decisions. Then we want to apply a methodology in La Masía to turn it into a center of excellence that is a guarantee of the football identity and the economic viability of the club.

Do you like Mateu Alemany?
He is one of the great executives of Spanish football. He has been president, CEO, technical secretary and sports director with success [at Mallorca and Valencia]. He is a respected man in the League and in football and I know him personally. I like him, yes. In the signing of Eto’o, he intervened decisively.

Have you already incorporated him?
We will incorporate prestigious professionals in the world of football. If we have the credit of winning the elections, we will announce them.

Ramon Planes is also a professional, who ends his contract on June 30. Do you have him as part of your plan?
I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him. The first thing I will do when I arrive, out of respect, is to talk to the people who currently work at the club. Now, I have to tell you that the structure is too complicated. You have to lose weight (reduce the number of staff in the structure).

Would you be understanding if the interim president signed in the winter market?
The interim president should not exceed their duties. They cannot sign in, they cannot increase the payroll. In fact, they would have to make proposals to reduce it. Before buying or selling players, first get us together and show us how the club is. Perhaps we agree as candidates. I would understand more if the interim manager summoned us to analyze the economic situation with documents than to propose operations. They cannot make disposition records. And I am surprised that they exclaimed about the situation when they knew about it by being part of the economic commission.

Is Espai Barça viable?
I would like to speak properly now, but I am a lawyer and I know that I cannot say according to what, if I am not president. I want to see the contracts with Goldman Sachs, their conditions. The project itself depends on financing, naming rights, whether we are subject to peremptory clauses. We take all this into account and we will not be able to go deeper until we are in the club.

In 2003 Laporta represented a modern option. He is now 58 years old, he has already ruled the club and they even say that he has moderated. Despite this, do you continue to feel that this project is the most groundbreaking of those that have been presented?
My project continues to be unafraid of changes. It is a candidacy that breathes what we will need to fix this situation. Our values ​​are clear: optimism, positive attitude, vocation for service, fresh air, joy, courage… We have to save the club from this context.

Many people speak of a face to face between Laporta and Font. Do you see it like this?
We’ll see who passes the signature cut. We have to respect all candidates. Everyone has the right to be excited to preside over Barça. I have maximum respect for the nine candidates.

“Presidentialism of the past? At times like this, Barça needs strong leadership”
Víctor Font said that you represent “the presidentialism of the past.” What do you think?

I don’t want to get into this game, but he knows it’s not true. When I say presidentialism I mean the intervention that I think the club requires at times like this on the part of the board and the president. A strong leadership, that the board roll up its sleeves and mark the lines of action. If not, we would go to a situation that would make us start the game with four goals against. My model proposes strong leadership, that managers are the first to pick up the suitcase and sell our enthusiasm for Barça. In 2003 we dedicated the best years of our youth to him and now we face the most important challenge of our maturity.

Have you talked to Bartomeu?
No, we haven’t talked in a long time. And I would like to do it when we enter the club and see how things are.

And with Sandro Rosell?
Yes, sometimes. I had a very good relationship with Sandro, but it broke down. Then he had a very big problem that I do not wish on anyone and I took the step to tell him that we should forget about the past, that I wanted to encourage him. We always have the point that at one point in life we ​​have been well. Life is short for unpleasant situations.

Would this cordiality be related to not taking a liability action against Bartomeu’s board?
No, don’t miscontrue it as that. This has nothing to do with it. I am determined to make the decisions that are necessary to correct the situation. And if I can I will not put the mirror. I have no desire for revenge against Bartomeu or Sandro. But this is not incompatible with transparency, with doing a due diligence to lift the carpets. Nobody controls us. We will make the decisions freely.

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