Photo by Lee Woolcock
A lawyer by trade, Joan Laporta was the president of FC Barcelona, from 2003 to 2010. His reign at Barça was a mixed bag of success, failure, and controversy at the Camp Nou.
Initially second favourite to fellow candidate Lluis Bassat in the 2003 Barça presidential campaign, Barcelona-born Laporta shot to fame after promising to capture the signature of football icon David Beckham. He didn’t of course, with Beckham ultimately opting to join Barça’s fiercest rivals Real Madrid. Nevertheless Catalunya was captivated by Laporta’s charm, and his eventual deliverance of Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho in place of Beckham, sealed an impressive late surge to victory.
Laporta’s first action as president was to appoint Frank Rijkaard as Head Coach. Relatively experienced and self-assured, Rijkaard proved to be a shrewd purchase by Laporta; he led los Blaugranes to La Liga titles in 2005 and 2006 as well as only the club’s second European Cup triumph in history, also in 2006.
Off the field, Laporta’s reluctance to shun the limelight has been a constant source of controversy for the club. After his decision upon arrival at the Camp Nou to try and tackle the violent stance of certain groups of supporters, Laporta was on the receiving end of numerous death threats, and spectacularly, an alleged kidnap plot by militant fans known as the Crazy Boys (Boixos Nois).
In 2005 he faced the resignation of five Barça board members (including his successor to the FC Barcelona presidency and one-time close ally, Sandro Rosell) following their claims that Laporta’s presidency had become too authoritarian and that he had “changed for the worse” since inheriting more power.
Despite being re-elected in 2006, a disappointing season in 2007 caused trouble for Laporta, and tension mounted following a vote of no confidence by the board in July 2008. However, the support needed to overthrow him was not achieved and, after sacking Rijkaard and appointing club legend Josep Guardiola as coach in summer 2008 (a move which led to Barça's most successful year ever in 2009 with the winning of six different trophies), Laporta survived to serve out his second term which will end in the summer of 2010.
Towards the end of his time as FC Barcelona president, Laporta made clear moves in the direction of a political career, using his role as a springboard to demonstrate his staunch Catalan nationalism. Although he originally aligned himself with pre-existing independence-minded parties and associations such as Reagrupament, founded in 2009, in July 2010, he co-founded a new party Solidaritat Catalana per la independencia (SI) to run in the November 2010 Catalan parliamentary elections. Despite being the newest party taking part in the elections, SI won four seats, including one for Laporta. The main aim of the party is the unilateral declaration of Catalan independence and have successfully tabled a motion for it to be debated, for the first time ever, in the Catalan parliament. However, in March 2011, Joan Laporta turned his back on SI to join with the left-wing independence party Esquerra Republicana (ERC) for the upcoming municipal elections, a move that put him at odds with his SI co-founders who didn't want to team up with ERC.