Joan Laporta interview: Complete transcription of SPORT’s sit-down


Joan Laporta interview: Complete transcription of SPORT’s sit-down

The Camp Nou offices are one of the few buildings still standing in the middle of the stadium's redevelopment. Joan Laporta has his own office in this building, where he welcomed SPORT to talk about Barça. "There are few people who have the whole club in their heads. One of them is me," claimed the president. And he proved it during this interview, which lasted over an hour.

On your mental roadmap, where do you see Barça at the moment?

The main objective was to bring joy back to Barça and win titles. We are starting to win. The attendance levels are reaching historic records. We are on the right track because we had set out to save the club financially and institutionally to make it competitive on a sporting level. Not only in football. And the six leagues in the (other) professional sections show we are working well and we are on the right track. But we want more, and next season we are more ambitious.

Even though you're going to Montjuïc?

It won't be easy. It will be uncomfortable, but I think Barça fans understand that it is a phase that we must go through if we want to realise the dream of having a new stadium, in an environment like the Espai Barça and with a new Palau. It is a sacrifice and I apologise for the inconvenience, but on a sporting level we want to be dominant in the Spanish league and we must be more competitive in the Champions League. 

The great challenge.

We have overcome important obstacles to participate in this Champions League and that is an incentive for us to win it. Xavi said that it wasn't until he won the first title that he was aware of it. It changes the players' mentality and they want more. Winning La Liga will help us to be ambitious.

Against a Real Madrid side that has signed Bellingham and can sign Mbappé.

We have a very competitive team and we have won La Liga. I focus on building a team and not on signing individual players. We have signed Gündogan and Iñigo Martínez and they will give us strong performance, as will those who are coming. We have some requests from the coach and we are trying to manage them. We are also short of a right-back. I don't look at the opposition because at the moment we have a better team and, individually, also with a level of difference compared to our rivals. As a club member and as a fan I am satisfied with the team we are building. This is about the team and not about the players.

That was seen with Leo Messi.

It is the hardest and most difficult moment I have lived through, but I have the peace of mind that I had to do it. It is the saddest decision I have ever made.

If he had waited, would he have come back?

We had the go-ahead from LaLiga. There was a space earmarked for Leo's return. We had talked about it with the player and his father, but when Jorge told me the decision that he was going to Inter Miami and gave me the reasons, I understood, we understand, we accept and we respect it.

Let me insist, the big challenge this season is Europe?

To continue to be dominant in La Liga and to be more competitive in Europe. In football there is only one winner and we cannot think that we are the only ones playing. La Liga is still a priority and depending on how we end up strengthening the team, we will have more chances of doing very well and winning it. I think we already have a team, but I think that if we strengthen our squad a bit more, we can be one of the candidates.

In other words, there will be more signings.

We have signed Iñigo Martínez, Gündogan, we have kept important players. We have a very solid defence, with a very reliable goalkeeper, one of the best in the world, a midfield in which, after Gündogan, there will be one or two more midfielders added. That's what the coach wants. And up front, with what we have and Vitor Roque, who we'll see when he ends up coming.

Whatever it takes to return to the European elite.

That's what you say. In Europe we continue to be a reference point as a club and with a very important weight.

But from a sporting point of view?

Being competitive in the Spanish league already makes us competitive. In Europe we've had circumstances that haven't allowed us to get past the group stage. Do you know how it shows? With players like Gündogan. If we weren't a reference point, these players wouldn't come. Even if one year we have not been able to participate in Europe as we would have liked, we are still a team of reference because the great players still want to come. You can't just confine it to the league.

Don't get angry...

Barça is a world reference point. And we are very lucky that you talk to most of the players about Barça and they want to come. You will understand that this is a very important thing for a club like Barça and for those of us whose job it is to build a competitive team.

I was referring to the fact that you are inheriting a club that has struggled to win in Europe and has suffered very painful defeats. Isn't there still a little bit left to adjust?

It's obvious, but the thermometer is that players wanted to leave and now players want to come back. For me this means that we still have that attraction.... We are competitive or potentially competitive, not only in LaLiga, but also in Europe. 

In order to strengthen, there will have to be departures. Is it difficult for players to leave because of their high salaries?

Yes, yes, yes, yes. There are some players who, in a way, have become entrenched. They know that the coach and the technical team don't count on them and they try to enforce their contracts. It's very respectable, but there are alarming situations because they were contracts that should never have been made. Because of their magnitude and duration.

Let's talk about Xavi. What grade do you give him?

An "A". From where we came from to where we are, for me he has done very, very well. Everything can be improved, he says so himself. The other day we were having lunch together and I see he is very focused. It's also been good for him to win and I see him as a coach who knows how to adapt to the circumstances and now, having won, I think he'll be able to express his footballing ideas more, and better.

With an A grade, shouldn't he have already renewed with a blank cheque?

One thing doesn't lead to another. He has a valid contract, he knows that there is a good relationship and when we at the club consider it right, we will talk about a new contract. Xavi is a noble and honest man and he is the first to work hard to achieve these outstanding results. Yes, we think we have to improve his contract because he came here in very difficult conditions and we want to value that. We think that, in due course, when the club considers it, we will talk about it, but we are in no hurry.

He has become a pillar of the new project and important decisions will be made by him. One of them is the future of Ansu Fati. Is there still a case to be solved?

No, he is under contract. From Ansu, everything points to the fact that this season will be much better than the last one, which was almost a recovery from a complicated injury and from which he had relapsed. Both the national team and the coach tell us that he is getting better every day. He wants to succeed at Barça, his agent and his entourage want him to play more, but it depends on the player.

And the coach. 

And on the coach, who wants it to be like this. Hopefully we will soon see the Ansu Fati who dazzled and enchanted football. I have faith in that. And I know the coach does too. And it gives me peace of mind. In fact, the other day they were saying in training, when they make bets when it comes to scoring goals, Ansu Fati and Lewandowski are always the top scorers. That's the way it is.

Before we finish, can you mediate to avoid a new war of 'isms' between Xavi and Guardiola? Will you mediate to reduce the tension?

No, there is no problem between Xavi and Guardiola. I don't have to go into it at all. This is a story from the other day, which I said in the conditional. "If I had to...". There is nothing. What there are are environments that, as they are two personalities of Barcelona, when you give your opinion of one it seems that you don't give your opinion of the others. 

I understand. 

They are two Barça greats, references points. And they always will be. Guardiola has a track record as a coach and Xavi is just starting out. And we also want Xavi to mark a splendid period at Barça. I don't want to and I have no desire to act as a mediator, as they always shoot the messenger (laughs). I have the peace of mind that I have spoken to one and the other and there is no problem. There is nothing to mediate about.

Now we're almost at the halfway point of your mandate, what situation did you find the club in and how is it now? Has anything surprised you?

Our plan was to work, work and work well. There was a strategy that we were fulfilling. We had thought about restructuring the debt and we have done it. We have achieved a better interest rate for the debt. We are increasing sponsorship income. We are tackling a collective dream of the Barça supporters, which is the Espai Barça. It was an electoral commitment and we are carrying it out. The priority objective was to bring joy back to Barça supporters and to win titles. We are starting to win. The attendance levels are reaching historic records. We are on the right track. We had set out to save the club financially and institutionally and to make it competitive on a sporting level. Not only in football. The six leagues show that we are working well and we are going in the right direction. We want more and next season we will be more ambitious.

Did the economic situation scare you?

Frightening is not the word. It made us respectful. It was the main objective in the short term. To save the club. We were in a ruinous situation with the short-term debt that had to be paid because they demanded it be paid. There was a situation of a skyrocketing and unsustainable wage bill. The legacy we received was one of financial ruin and we had to act fast and make important decisions. There were two ways. It was either to get on with it, or to make a shock plan. We decided to act immediately to save the club. We are recovering and it is going well. It gave us a lot of respect.

Victor Font commented that Barça is getting worse and the legacy could be dangerous. What do you think?

I don't want to comment on the opinions of people I respect, but that's not the case. The club is better than it was two years ago on an economic, sporting, social and institutional level. I think these opinions defend other interests, but to each his own.

Do you think that when you are not in government there could be a danger of Barça becoming a SAD?

That will be decided by the board that comes in when we are there. As long as we have the responsibility, this will not happen. Because this is also for the members of the club to decide. The governance model is an asset of the club and we are very clear that it should not be transformed into a limited company. It is much better not to be one. It is not necessary and it does not guarantee you anything if you become a SAD. You have to work well here. Generate income and reduce expenses in order to clean up the club. With the decisions that have been taken, the club has already been upgraded in terms of financial ratios. Barça is much healthier now than it was two years ago.

There has been reconciliation with LaLiga. Was it necessary for Barça?

I've been thinking about this for a long time. It's been a long time since we should have resumed relations for many reasons. Barça as an institution must have good relations with LaLiga and the presidents on a personal level may have disagreements but there are issues that unite us on the subject of football. With Javier Tebas and Luis Rubiales the relationship is good.

You don't talk politics with Tebas?

Don't you believe that... Yes, we talk about everything. Javier is a person you can talk to. We don't leave topics untouched. He is vehement and I am a bit too. We have also talked about the Super League. He knows that it is not with the intention of turning everything around. Even if there is a Super League, the national leagues must continue to respect each other. Javier Tebas has experience and thinks the league will not have a place in the game and I think it will. 

Have you spoken to Florentino after reconciliation with Tebas?

With Florentino we talked about the Super League and we will see each other on the tour of the United States. The relationship is one of institutional harmony and we agree on the issue of the Super League, which could be the most important competition in the world. We are waiting for Luxembourg's resolution, but Barça can leave the Super League whenever it wants. That's what we decided when we were just the three teams.

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