PETE JENSON: Barca have taken football’s biggest gamble this summer and become more like Real Madrid… maverick Laporta will either end up as a messiah or his reputation will be ruined forever
- Barcelona were predicted to have a quiet summer window of cutting costs
- However, there has been a host of glamour new arrivals at the Nou Camp
- Some fans are marvelling at the work of maverick Barca president Joan Laporta
- But others, probably a minority, believe that the club’s DNA has been betrayed
- The coming weeks and months will show whether Laporta’s gamble has paid off
Joan Laporta has always been bold and brave but this summer the maverick Barca leader has gone where no club president has ever gone before. Has he taken the people with him? It really depends who you ask.
Most fans have marvelled at the way he’s played hard and fast with LaLiga’s financial fairplay rules and proved the mainstream sports media in the city wrong.
They predicted a quiet summer of free-transfer chasing and penny-pinching. Almost no-one one saw the deluge of new arrivals coming.
But not everyone is a believer. Some, probably a minority, think the club’s DNA has been betrayed – they have become more like Real Madrid going after big name players who will be as commercially successful as they will be useful to Xavi.
This summer, Joan Laporta has gone where no Barcelona president has ever gone before
Forcing other players out with mild smear campaigns and gentle threats had previously been something more associated with Real Madrid than the Catalans but it’s what Barcelona did with Ousmane Dembele last January and they have repeated it with Frenkie de Jong.
Who will be proved right depends largely on what happens this season and in the next two weeks. If the club falls flat on its face failing to register all the new signings then Laporta will struggle to recover.
Or if they do manage to sign up everyone up but then have a below-par season that sees them miss out financially and start lurching towards having to give up their special status as a sports club and become a public limited corporation, then his reputation will be ruined.
He does not want to be the man who lost Messi and then lost Barca’s special status.
Barca chiefs have tried to force midfielder Frenkie de Jong out of the club in recent weeks
Meanwhile, a host of glamour new signings have arrived, such as Robert Lewandowski (right)
For now, the believers are still revelling in all the summer activity. The atmosphere at the pre-season Gamper tournament where 82,000 watched Barca pummel Pumas underlined the excitement and enthusiasm.
The atmosphere at games was already good last season just because Xavi was back in charge and Mateu Alemany and Jordi Cruyff had been able to work hard in the winter window to bring in the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ferran Torres.
Those players will now struggle to get in the team, such are the riches on offer for Xavi as he picks his front three. Some have even suggested Barcelona have the best squad in Europe.
That is probably stretching it in terms of their goalkeeper, defence and midfield but certainly in attack with Dembele, Raphinha, Robert Lewandowski, Torres, Aubameyang, Memphis Depay and Ansu Fati it’s hard to think of any club having better options.
Xavi has an embarrassment of riches to choose from when it comes to his attacking options
Raphinha and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are just two of the talents in Barca’s frontline
They club has mortgaged its future to make it happen and it’s a gamble but that just makes Laporta even sexier in the eyes of some.
The story about trying to count buying back their own TV rights income in 25 years time, from themselves, and then declaring it as revenue to LaLiga, will have just been another indication about how hard Laporta was working to turn this campaign into a success.
He was even brave enough to bring in the players before he signed off on the deals to lease or sell not just the club’s TV rights but also 49 per cent of Barca Studios.
Now he is gambling again on players seeing what an exciting project this is and making certain sacrifices in terms of wages to allow everyone to be registered.
Gerard Pique has signed up and the club are still trying to get Sergio Busquets on board.
Laporta has built it, now he’s waiting to see if the people will come. And by people we don’t just mean his supporters but also new sponsors attracted to the idea of being connected to the club that for better or worse everyone has been talking about this summer.
Laporta split opinion when he sold the naming rights to the Nou Camp to Spotify this summer
The division within the club’s supporters is perhaps generational too. Younger fans have less of a problem calling the stadium the Spotify Camp Nou and accepting the idea that a cryptocurrency company now owns half of Barca Studios.
Those who shake their heads at all of this would have preferred the club to keep their heads down this summer, promote more youth and build a team around the already established young stars such as Pedri and Gavi.
Laporta has argued that that was not going to cut it. He believes it would have led to several mediocre seasons with Barca’s cache in free-fall in the process.
He has gone all in. In the coming weeks and months we will all find out if one of the greatest gambles in football is going to pay-off.