Joan Laporta tells Ben Hayward how the best team in history is being ruined from within
It all started with a brilliant Brazilian and a transfer involving Paris Saint-Germain. Joan Laporta won the elections to take over as Barcelona president in 2003 and brought in Ronaldinho to spearhead an ambitious sporting project on the pitch. Today, rocked by the acrimonious departure of another Brazilian, Neymar, to PSG, the Catalan club is far removed from the one he left when his mandate ended in 2010.
“I stood despite the treble to show that there was another model for running the club,” he said. “I wanted to show that there was another model for running the club that did not involve Qatar, that does not destroy La Masia, that doesn’t mean going to the [transfer] market and signing players at any price… that there’s a club that can have Unicef on its shirt, that can be based on the system of play that was invented by Johan Cruyff, that strengthens La Masia… That is the model of the club that we built and that this lot, that are still in the board today, have taken to destroying.
“Today, the institution is given more importance than the team, but the club depends on what happens on the pitch. They haven’t been able to oversee the renovation as they should have and that’s why last year didn’t go as it should have. We have an imbalanced squad, the youth system is being dissolved with no players coming through, and all of that worries me because the model we built for Barça worked and was the most appropriate one, in my understanding, to compete with clubs that are owned by a magnate with pots of money to spend on players.
“The figures should be lower, [but] up against that, we produced players from the youth system, we created stars to play in the first team.”
La Masia was a pillar of Laporta’s project, with Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Pedro, Messi and Victor Valdes all key players during his mandate. In recent years, however, the youth academy has not had the same impact.
“The proof is in the few players who are moving up to the first team or playing in the first team,” the former club chief said. “They have maintained the ones we had and I don’t think they have brought through replacements. They have taken advantage of the great players in the first team at Barca, but they haven’t worked at bringing through the next batch.
“Apart from Sergi Roberto, who came from our time really, they haven’t brought through one player. The opposite: they have sold players and some have ended up leaving. And for our model, that is very worrying. We need to bring through players with talent, and there is talent at youth level at Barca, there is.”
Laporta lent heavily on Johan Cruyff as an advisor during his time as president, having idolised the Dutchman as a young Barcelona fan.
“For me, [Joan] Gamper, [Laszlo] Kubala and Cruyff were the most important figures in the history of Barca,” he said. “The ones who transformed the club and defined an era.
“In Johan’s case, for me, he was important because as a player he transformed football into art and he gave us a Liga in 1973-74 after 14 years in which Barca had not won anything. We played spectacular football and we won that Liga, among other things, but the most important thing was how they played.
“Later, as coach, he gave us a European Cup and four Ligas in a row, and he was inspiration for a whole generation, which is mine, that when we arrived at Barca, we were inspired by his way of understanding football, by his footballing philosophy, by his way of understanding life. And in that respect, we have to be grateful to him and that is why I made him honorary president. So for me, yes, he is the most important personality in the history of Barca.”