x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Laporta's legacy at Barca not adding up

Allegations of financial misconduct and nepotism continue to cast a show over the previous regime at the Camp Nou.

When Sandro Rosell was elected the Barcelona president in June, many wondered if he was inheriting a poisoned chalice.

Given that Joan Laporta, the previous incumbent, had overseen two Champions League and four league titles in his seven-year stint, many thought Rosell could only fail.

A one-time supporter activist and lawyer, Laporta swept into power at Camp Nou in 2003 on an attention-grabbing, but unfulfilled promise, to bring David Beckham to the club.

Rosell was his vice-president, an ambitious Nike marketing executive from a respected Catalan family. His father had been Barca's managing director in the 1970s and his Nike influence later led to Ronaldinho signing.

As results picked up and Barca won the league in 2005, the pair fell out and Rosell stepped down, later publishing a book critical of Laporta and accusing him of being autocratic and power hungry.

He was not alone in making such accusations, especially in the final two years of his presidency. "Profligate" and "nepotistic" were two other terms frequently heard.

Laporta left for a future in politics where he has the ambition to lead Catalonia to absolute independence from Spain, boasting that his presidency was the most successful ever - whichever way it was judged.

So there was surprise when Rosell revealed that a €155 million (Dh790.5m) loan was required to pay the bills soon after his appointment. Many sensed it was the new president taking the wind out of the sails of the old regime, yet allegations of financial misconduct continued.

Rosell portrayed an image of someone playing an ultra straight bat, even if it cost him friends in high places.

Johan Cruyff, the Barca legend, had accepted Laporta's offer to become the club's life president.

Rosell correctly stated that such an appointment was against club rules and that it should be put to a vote. Cruyff handed back the honour in disgust.

Furthermore, the €11m profit presented by Laporta's board was audited to a €79m loss. Figures had, fans were told, been assumed, with revenue accounted which had not been received.

An ongoing dispute with pay television company Sogecable subsequently led to Barca appearing in court and ordered to pay €57m, providing part confirmation of Rosell's accusations.

To fans proud that Barca is a club that pays its way and contemptuous of the debts of English clubs, it was a heavy blow.

Rosell's board have approved a new code of ethics, big on "transparency" and forbidding "employment to relatives". Barca's directors are paid only in prestige, but the previous number of private jets on expenses and other excesses raised eyebrows. "Receiving commissions" will also be outlawed.

More allegations have emerged which highlight the profligacy of the Laporta regime, with expenses claimed for a number of surprising items like cigars.

And last week, Barca's general assembly voted to take Laporta to court for financial losses, with Rosell describing the decision as "the most important decision taken by members in the history of the club". He added that: "There is nothing agreeable about it and personally I feel very uncomfortable with it all."

Laporta responded with a stinging attack, the type which Barca's team have been unable to muster as frequently as hoped so far this season.

"Our management of the club was impeccable," he said. "We helped build the best Barca ever, but they [Rosell et al] have helped build a bad name for our management. This damage may have irreparable consequences and he does not deserve his position at the club."

Barca's internal politics will now be thrashed out in a public court, a distraction any club could do without, not least one faced with the challenge of Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid.

sports@thenational.ae