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FC Barcelona Blast From The Past: 2003/04 season

The guy on the right helped turn things around...
The guy on the right helped turn things around...

Well, it has been quite a season, hasn't it? La Liga and the Champions League titles in the bag, and all the pundits in the world gushing about FC Barcelona and whether this is the greatest team of all time (I'm not getting into that argument).  You can't really blame them because in this Champions League era, money is king and having won 3 CL titles in 6 seasons makes people hyperbolize. Yup, FC Barcelona is certainly on top of the world right now and at the highest point in club history. To get to the top though, you have to start at the bottom and we'll look back at among the lowest points in team history, the 2003/04 season (well, part of the season).



The 2003/04 season was setting up to be a tumultous one for Barcelona. They had just come off a sixth place finish in La Liga, their worst in 15 years, not helped by the fact that unpopular president Joan Gaspart changed managers 3 times during the season. They had also endured a trophy drought for four years, which was unacceptable in Catalonia. Thankfully enough, Gaspart's disastrous reign ended, and the presidential elections had brought young lawyer Joan Laporta to the throne, boosted by a promise to bring Manchester United star David Beckham to the Camp Nou. The Catalan giants seemed to have a fresh face to build their team around, not to mention a marketing and money-making machine. Somebody forgot to tell Beckham though...

From the start, Beckham (and his sponsors) did not want to join a club that were not playing in the Champions League. Manchester United had agreed with Barcelona on a transfer fee, only Beckham didn't want to join the team. So the deal got scuppered, and Beckham went to archrivals Real Madrid for $40 million. It was a bitter pill to swallow for Laporta, who then turned to Plan B and signed Ronaldinho from PSG for $35 million. Another name brought in during this time was Rafael Marquez from AS Monaco. Years later, he would prove to be a quite astute signing but for now, the supporters were angered that Beckham had turned them down. Without the star that they wanted, a new coach that had been fired from his previous job after relegation (Frank Rijkaard at Sparta Rotterdam), and the same underachieving bunch of the previous year, it was an volatile situation at the Camp Nou. And the season hadn't even started yet!

The start of the season did little to calm tensions at the Camp Nou, as they suffered defeats at home to Deportivo and Valencia and a string of unimpressive performances left Cules everywhere scratching their heads. By the middle of December, they had reached boiling point. An embarrassing 5-1 loss at La Romareda to Malaga  was followed up by a 1-2 home loss to archrivals Real Madrid, Los Galacticos' first win at the Camp Nou in 20 years. The fans were calling for Rijkaard's head. Laporta, to his credit, did not overreact and stood behind his coach. He brought in some help as well, in the form of Edgar Davids and Gio, on loan from Juventus and Arsenal, respectively. The moves paid off handsomely for FC Barcelona.

Davids' inclusion in the starting 11 allowed young Xavi Hernandez to push forward more. And it provided solidity in midfield for Barca, something they had lacked all season. The results were there for everybody to see, as FC Barcelona went on a 17-game unbeaten run (winning 14 of them) towards the end of the season, highlighted by a 2-1 win at the Bernabeu. In the end, they fell short of the title but rocketed up to second when the season ended, an amazing rise from the dumps of December.

Despite not winning a title, the fans were finally pleased with the direction the team was going. The mess (and the debts) that Gaspart had left had been cleaned up by Laporta. There was still a long way to go to where the club wanted to be, but as we now know, that season was a start. A start of an uprising, a football revolution. And guess what, the revolution has been won.

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