Who would’ve thought, that by the end of the noughties, FC Barcelona would emerge as the most dominant club in Spain? Not only did they prove that they are juggernauts in the domestic league, they also won two Champions League trophies in the span of three years, a feat only matched by Italy’s AC Milan.
It’s even more impressive, when you consider the fact that the Blaugrana only managed to win Europe’s most prestigious club competition once prior to their 2006 triumph in Paris.
The Catalan club has always been able to attract top-class talent, from Johan Cruyff to Diego Maradona, Romario and later Ronaldinho. But even the greatest European player and the greatest footballer of all-time, Cruyff and Maradona respectively couldn’t guide the club to Champions League glory, not even once.
The Clemente Era
The one thing Barca really struggled with was keeping their stars. Players, or better yet, Barca-legends, like Bernd Schuster or Ronaldo, left the club because they didn’t feel valued by the higher-ups at the organization. Some of them even left for Barca’s hated and eternal rivals Real Madrid. Not to defend Luis Figo’s actions, but a pay-rise for FC Barcelona’s then-best player would have been more than appropriate.
After his then-world-record transfer from FC Barcelona to Real Madrid, Figo went from being one of the most beloved Blaugrana players to one of the most despised, to this very day.
The president who oversaw the exodus of so many world-class superstars? Josep Lluís Núñez y Clemente. We can only imagine what could’ve been if he managed to keep hold of his players.
Eventually Clemente resigned as the President of FC Barcelona during the trophy-drought in 2000. The trophy-barren spell would last into the 2003/2004 season when a young and ambitious lawyer became the new President of FC Barcelona, Joan Laporta i Estruch.
The Laporta Era
When Laporta took over the reins, he promised to sign Manchester United’s David Beckham only to deliver the then, raw and unpolished Brazilian Ronaldinho (after Becks made it clear that he only intended to join Real Madrid). In retrospect, Beck’s rejection has been a blessing in disguise, as "Ronnie" would guide FC Barcelona to back-to-back La Liga titles and their second Champions Leauge.
The man who helped him land Ronaldinho, his former best friend, vice-president of sports and current President of FC Barcelona, Sandro Rosell.
Laporta also promised to improve the economic situation and increase the commercial revenue. It’s still unclear what exactly his motivations were, when he entrusted the sporting fortunes of the club in the hands of the relatively inexperienced Dutch manager Frank Rijkaard.
His presidency would, stand or fall, with the success or failure of the Dutchman. After the disastrous first half of the 2003/2004 season, neither Laporta nor Rijkaard looked like they would still be associated with FC Barcelona by May of 2004. But Laporta kept his faith in Rijkaard and Barca would eventually finish second in La Liga.
It’s that faith and trust that sets Laporta apart from other Presidents, especially of a genuine European giant like FC Barcelona.
During his term as the President of FC Barcelona he improved the standing of the club, both economically as well as socially. One of his biggest accomplishments was the alliance with UNICEF, where Barca would pay the humanitarian organization to wear their logo on the Blaugrana jerseys. Never in their entire history had FC Barcelona a shirt sponsor, but putting the UNICEF logo on the shirt was a more than a welcome change.
By estimation, Barca could generate upwards of 20.000.000€ annually by having a shirt sponsor. Still, even without this extra source of income, Laporta made good on his promise, FC Barcelona now boast the second highest revenue in all of world-football.
Towards the end of his presidency, and after overcoming a vote of no confidence, Laporta made another bold move when he appointed the untested and inexperienced Pep Guardiola to be Rijkaard’s successor.
The Dutchman seemed to have lost the dressing room and after two trophy-less years he was released from FC Barcelona.
The 2008/2009 campaign couldn’t have started in worse fashion, losing again newly promoted Numancia. After a shaky start into the season, many questioned Laporta’s decision to install Guardiola as the manager of Barca – they were about to be proven wrong.
Fast forward 18 months into the future; FC Barcelona won a third Champions League, became the first Spanish team to ever accomplish the treble and the only team in history to win all club competitions in the same calendar year.
Meet Sandro Rosell
A former Nike executive, Laporta’s former running-mate was essential in acquiring the services of Ronaldinho. It can be argued that his personal relationship with the Brazilian convinced Ronnie to sign with FC Barcelona and ignore Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United.
Two years into the Laporta-presidency, he resigned as the Vice-President of sports, accusing Laporta to deviate from his original vision
In 2006, when FC Barcelona was in their quest for domestic and Champions League glory, Rosell released a book Benvingut al món real (Welcome to the real world). He could’ve released the book at any point AFTER the 2005/2006 campaign, instead of providing a potential source of turmoil.
The Rosell Era
During his campaign to become the next president of FC Barcelona, Sandro Rosell has made it a point criticizing the Laporta-administration for being fiscally irresponsible. His first action as Barca-president, off-loading Dymytro Chygrynskiy for 15.000.000€ (he was bought for 25.000.000€ by Joan Laporta but seen as a long-term replacement for Carles Puyol) and loaning out Zlatan Ibrahimovic to AC Milan for the 2010/2011 season for free (Milan must pay a mandatory fee of 24.000.000€ when they want to retain his services in 2011 and beyond).
Regarding Chgrynskiy, Pep didn’t want to sell him in the first place, he might have become a valuable player in due time.
The case of Zlatan Ibrahimovic is more curios or should I say strange. Ibracadabra is the most expensive signing in the history of FC Barcelona.
Why would Rosell –out of all people- loan him out to AC Milan (a direct rival for the Champions League title) for free, without asking for a loan-fee?
Even Zamalek of Egypt requested a fee from Wigan Athletic when they loaned out Amr Zaki.
With David Villa and Bojan enduring a prolonged goal-drought, FC Barcelona are currently short on strikers, meanwhile Ibrahimovic is playing in Milan for free! How financially responsible is that?
And to add insult to injury, AC Milan will pay the fee of 24.000.000€ in three (!) installments in as many years.
Not only did Sandro Rossel a bang-up job in making FC Barcelona the laughingstock of Europe, he also very publicly humiliated Johan Cruyff when he stripped him off the Honorary presidency of FC Barcelona.
He argued that the Socios weren’t asked and that Joan Laporta unilaterally gave him this position.
Is there another single individual that has been as important as Cruyff in reshaping the club?
There’s only one true motive behind this, Johan Cruyff is too closely associated with the former president, namely Joan Laporta.
After facing the public backlash, Sandro Rosell, being the opportunistic individual that he is, asked Johan Cruyff to become the honorary president again. Can you believe that?
Of course, Cruyff declined.
In another ill-advised action, Rosell has now made it impossible for fans anywhere on the globe to become Socios. Part of the reason, Rosell and his administration are afraid that FC Barcelona could lose its Catalan identity.
It is impossible for FC Barcelona to lose its identity, especially when you have to reside in Catalunya in case you want to run for the president of the club.
There’s a wonderful phrase from Joan Gamper (founder of FC Barcelona and a Swiss) in the Barca museum "The Catalan people have made Barcelona its team, and Barcelona itself has made itself a club for everyone". It is significant that of the organization’s twelve founders, six were Catalan and six were from other countries in Europe.
Sandro Rosell has accomplished what no other president in the history of FC Barcelona managed to do; he alienated the fans who aren’t Catalan, that’s you & I, that’s almost everyone.
I’m under no illusions that Joan Laporta is not a Catalan nationalist, he identifies himself as such. But while Laporta has, at times, abused his position to promote –his- Catalan cause, he never alienated or isolated the whole institution that is FC Barcelona from the rest of its supporters.
Regardless of what success Rosell, may or may not, achieve during his presidency – he is just continuing the work for which Laporta has laid down the groundwork.
The squad, the manager, the sponsorships can all be attributed to the Laporta-administration. The only original thought Rosell has had so far, was the consideration to get shirt sponsors.
If that happens, Barca cannot claim to be "Mes que un club" because FC Barcelona would only become another vehicle to promote the goods of some random company in exchange for an improved cash-flow.