Tim Stannard says things could be about to get even more fun at the Camp Nou...
After a flirtatious few years of blowing kisses from afar at disgruntled Barcelona fans, Joan Laporta finally announced what everyone knew he was going to do anyway: run for the club's presidency to take up the King of Cataluyna mantle for a second time. If La Liga followed any kind of pattern, then that poll wouldn't be taking place for another 12 months.
However, Josep Maria Bartomeu brought the process forward by a year in January amid a turbulent spell, to avoid suffering the same institutional fate as many a Game of Thrones character.
In theory, Laporta should be a shoo-in for a second tenure as Barça bigwig when the votes are collected on July 18. The lawyer was only forced to stand down in 2010 due to rules on term limits – a dabble in local politics ensued – and he has been a figure who has simultaneously managed to be an ever-present in the Barcelona arena as well as a shadowy antagonist throwing buns from the sidelines.
The vibe from Laporta’s US President-style video message was that he wanted to return Barcelona to its former values – La Masia, Johan Cruyff, UNICEF and Cataluyna. This will win an awful lot of support from club members who are eligible to vote, and were never completely enamoured by the Sandro Rosell/Bartomeu regime which seemed more interested in striking deals with sponsors in Qatar and jumping on board with a Real Madrid-style Galactico policy. Although Barça have just won the Treble, which should be a bit of a chalk mark in Bartomeu’s plus point board, elsewhere the situation is a little more precarious and perhaps in need of a white horse to ride in and save the day.
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Messi and La Masia
The club has been plagued by legal issues regarding Neymar’s contract, with Bartomeu even forced to stand trial for alleged tax evasion. Leo Messi has also found himself in trouble with the Spanish law, although that isn't strictly an issue for Barcelona themselves. Although the FIFA transfer ban related to transgressions in the recruitment of youth team products during Laporta’s regime too, the argument made is that the club was too institutionally weak to lobby against the punishment that sees Barcelona unable to bring players in until January 2016.
The relegation of the connection with UNICEF, superseded by the heavy promotion of the Qatar Foundation, has never sat well with supporters despite the money such deals have brought in to enable the club to have the most formidable forward line in world football.
The disfunction of La Masia will also play a key part in the issues. Under Laporta, Barcelona’s B team could have been promoted to La Primera, and supplied players of the calibre of Pedro and Sergio Busquets.
More than a club
But those are the last two figures from La Masia who could not be considered more than a fringe player, aside from the departed Thiago Alcantara who was allowed to leave for Bayern Munich. At the end of last season, Barcelona B were relegated to the third tier of Spanish football, with highly touted footballers like Munir having failed to cut the mustard in the top flight.
While Bartomeu is a rather dry, humourless figure, Joan Laporta is an absolute hoot. He's personable and charming but with quite the temper – one that once saw him angrily removing his trousers at an airport security checkpoint. Voters will see Laporta as someone who can restore the 'more than a club' reputation of the Treble-winning team, as well as build on the foundations set by his predecessors – and successors.