The Catalan club’s figurehead spoke to THE KINGS about the efforts to take the club back to the top
As the night rolls on, Joan Laporta holds court on a picturesque New York rooftop.
Barcelona’s players are long gone, having returned to their hotels as they continue on their marathon pre-season tour around the U.S. So too are the dignitaries, New York mayor Eric Adams among them, as the night has grown late.
Laporta continues to shake hands, laugh, take pictures, talk. He hugs familiar faces and introduces himself to new ones, making himself available to anyone and everyone on this picturesque Manhattan night.
It’s another day in the life of Laporta: Barcelona’s busiest man.
He’s the president charged with getting the club out of a seemingly bottomless financial hole. He’s the architect charged with rebuilding a club still reeling from Lionel Messi’s departure.
Just as importantly, he’s the public face of a global brand that is looking to rebuild its reputation, on and off the field, after several years of mismanagement and setbacks.
“It’s crucial, this season,” he tells THE KINGS during a brief moment away from the crowd. “It’s the reason why we improved our team, reworked our finances and developed a strategy: to put Barca as a reference of the football world.”
For years, Barca was that reference in virtually every way. On the field, the Catalans were a juggernaut, led by homegrown stars like Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Off of it, they were a booming business, one of sports’ most recognizable brands that captured attention all over the world.
However, in recent times, the references involving Barcelona changed as years of mismanagement finally caught up with the club.The money completely dried up, forcing Messi out of his forever club as Barcelona were left unable to afford him. The results dipped, as rivals Real Madrid asserted themselves as the best team in Spain, Europe and the world.
As Josep Maria Bartomeu’s tenure as president came to an end, Barca were mired in chaos and left with more than €1 billion (£858m/$1bn)) worth of debt.
Enter Laporta for presidency part two. It was under Laporta that Barcelona ushered in their glory days, with the now-60-year-old executive famously appointing Pep Guardiola all those years ago. It was under Laporta that Barca began their era of dominance, setting a new record for trophies won in a 12-month period with six in 2009.
With Barca on the brink, the club turned to Laporta to help this Titanic-sized club avoid an iceberg of their own making.”We are working in the right direction now and we know what we have to do,” Laporta says. “I am sure that we will do it again because I did it during my first period as a president. We are working to do it again.”
Elected in March 2021, Laporta’s presidency started with that infamous Messi departure, despite promises to keep him, but the months since have been a flurry of big moves and big deals aiming to rebuild the club.
Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Franck Kessie, Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen are in. A new sponsorship with Spotify has been finalised.
Big money has been raised, with the club earning €267 million (£229m/$277m) from the sale of 10 percent of their La Liga television rights to global investment firm Sixth Street Partners before selling 15 percent more to the American investment firm. The club hopes to raise a further €200-300m ($203-304m) in return for 49 percent of the company Barcelona operates to negotiate its licensing rights and merchandising.
All of those deals, naturally, come with risk, as Barca has opted to, perhaps needed to, cash in in the short term while potentially losing major money in the long term. That debt still looms large, and could prove a problem that could leave the club unable to register key players if everything doesn’t line up.
“In terms of financials, we are getting better,” Laporta says. “That’s very important, because it has been a year that we worked very hard on this issue.
“In terms of the players that we signed this summer, we are really happy because our sporting department, they are working very well and they did their best to improve our competitive team.”
He adds: “Yes, I’m happy. I’m happy, more than happy because now we will be waiting for the results of all of this.”
Those changes have 2022 feeling like a new era for Barca, even if the club still has a lot of work to do to dig itself out of the previous one. If this past season was the post-Messi hangover, there’s hope that this season will be the one that sees the club return to take past successes by taking a step into a new future.
Thursday night was an example of that, a mix of Barca both old and new. The club is in the U.S. for their tour, a four-match run which has seen them play Inter Miami, Real Madrid and Juventus ahead of Saturday’s finale against the New York Red Bulls.As part of that tour, Laporta and co took over New York for the day. He was flanked by Sergio Busquets and Pedri in Times Square as the club promoted its new Johan Cruyff-inspired NFT.
Players joined Ben Simmons of the Brooklyn Nets for an informal shootaround. At night, Laporta was joined by Xavi, Jordi Alba and Thierry Henry in presenting the club’s new charity initiative.
Laporta was one of several speakers, but the show as stolen by UNHCR ambassador Mary Maker, a South Sudanese refugee that spoke of her own experiences and her dreams for a better future.
“Mes que un club,” she said in her best Catalan to cheers from the Barcelona representatives that surrounded her. For all its faults, Barcelona remain a global force, and the club intends to grow even more in the years to come, especially stateside.”In terms of the U.S. tour, it has been very profitable in terms of image, in terms of resources, economics, and in terms of putting Barca closer to the fans,” Laporta says.
“Our aim was to extend Barca’s brand. It was a way to show the way we work, our philosophy, our values here in the U.S., and at the same time, to highlight to the U.S. and institutions in order to develop our entire global, commercial, brand strategy.
“I think that has been very, very interesting. Actually, we want a strong office in the States. One in New York and maybe open another one in another place.”
He continues: “We are showing our style of playing football that has been recognized all over the world. That makes us different and is one of the pillars of our brand.”
As the clock strikes 11 pm, a member of the staff approaches Laporta with a message that had already been said to everyone else still lurking on the rooftop: “We’re wrapping up here. It’s time to leave.”
An onlooker responds almost instantly: “One moment. Don’t you know he’s the president of Barcelona?”
Laporta laughs, finishes up, shakes hands, and walks towards the exit. His day is over, but there’s much work left to be done.