Laporta’s Super League positioning another symptom of Barça’s grave financial woes
As debts and fan fury mount, new president says it's “absolutely necessary” that big clubs have say on distribution of wealth
It has been a whirlwind few days in the world of football. Twelve of Europe’s biggest clubs staged an attempted coup, hoping to form a breakaway competition that could rip apart the foundations of the sport adored by countless millions across the globe, in search of ever-increasing revenue streams and profit margins. FC Barcelona were among the twelve “founding clubs” of this proposed Super League.
Yet, amid the chaos and dramatic, lightning-paced news cycle, Barça president Joan Laporta held his silence for longer than most before eventually breaking it with the clear message that it is “absolutely necessary” that big clubs have a say on the distribution of wealth. Laporta's comments come as the club faces debts of around €1 billion, with €700 million due to be repaid this year.
Speaking to Catalan television station TV3, Laporta gave mixed messages as he continued to walk on the tightest of tightropes.
The president spoke in favour of the breakaway competition, but also in favour of sporting merit, domestic competitions, and dialogue with UEFA.
The Super League would give 15 clubs permanent positions, going against sporting merit of having to qualify, with five additional spots for other clubs based on a “sporting merit” the mechanisms of which have not been explained publicly.
While without directly impacting domestic competition, the differences in the reported prize money on offer could also greatly diminish the importance of domestic leagues and could lead to clubs focussing their resources on specific competitions that offer the greatest rewards.
Despite saying he’s in open dialogue with UEFA, Laporta still signed off on a Super League deal that was announced with European football’s official organizing body left totally in the dark about a deal that cuts them out of the picture completely.
“We need more resources to make this a great show. I think there will be an understanding,” the Barça chief said. “There has been pressure on some clubs, but the proposal still exists. We make very important investments, salaries are very high and all these considerations must be taken into account, also taking into account the sporting merits.”
Barça’s commitment to the Super League is intrinsically linked with their perilous financial situation - over €1 billion in debts, with over €700 million of that due to be repaid in the short-term.
The pandemic has led to empty stadiums, meaning no matchday revenues for clubs, and Barça have been hit extra hard by the health crisis due to the almost complete cessation of tourism, with merchandise and tour ticket sales falling off a cliff.
The breakaway Super League promised untold riches, money that Barcelona needs sooner rather than later to stave off creditors and even pay their players and staff.
Piqué absolves the president
Late on Tuesday night, after the empire had already largely collapsed with many English clubs pulling their participation, FC Barcelona player Gerard Piqué tweeted “Football belongs to the fans. Today more than ever.”
Football belongs to the fans. Today more than ever.— Gerard Piqué (@3gerardpique) April 20, 2021
Also released this week was an interview that Gerard Piqué had given with Jorge Valdano, in which he absolved Laporta, who was only voted in as president of Barcelona in early March, of any wrongdoing regarding the Super League project.
The defender pointed out that the president “inherited” the club in “very bad economic circumstances” after former chief Josep Maria Bartomeu amassed such enormous debts at the club.
Such terrible economic circumstances have been culminated from years and years of outlandish spending, much of it on poorly recruited players for the first team. The tragicomedy of Philippe Coutinho epitomises the gluttony at the top of European football in recent years, signed for a reported €120 million with potential add-ons of an additional €40 million.
Barça couldn't manage to find a spot for him in the first team and eventually loaned him to Bayern Munich, where he scored twice and assisted another in FC Barcelona's most humiliating defeat of the modern era on his way to winning the Champions League with the Bavarians.
Granted, this deal happened before Laporta's arrival at the club, but signing up to the Super League, with the intention of only increasing revenues, will only encourage the perpetuation of this culture of spending more and more.
Laporta signed off on this Super League deal and is standing firm in his commitment to the project, but the Barça president added an extra stipulation to his agreement to join the breakaway competition - that club socis (club members) would get a final say in what the club did.
This was also confirmed by UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin speaking to Slovenian media on Thursday. “They’ve all disappointed me, but Barcelona the least,” Ceferin said.
“Laporta was elected as president less than two months ago, so he’s not been able to do much. The contract he signed leaving the final decision to the socis was very smart.” Ceferin also explained that the Barça chief spoke to him about the financial difficulties his club are facing, leading to intense pressure at the Camp Nou.
Laporta's fragile position
One way or another, Joan Laporta appears to be in a fragile situation. The Super League idea made fans across the world furious, with the billionaire elites of the game pulling up the drawbridge behind them and closing off competition to the benefit of the super wealthy.
Graffiti in protest of the move appeared on the surroundings of Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium in the middle of the chaos, showing the anger was also felt locally. By entering the Super League, the club’s motto of ‘Més que un club’ could be interpreted in an entirely new manner - no longer speaking about a proud social entity, but rather a superclub instead of just a regular club.
With the obligation of managing the club’s precarious financial situation, Laporta could fear a financial backlash for pulling out of the Super League - something that isn’t yet publicly known, but Florentino Pérez, president of the breakaway competition and of Real Madrid, has mentioned numerous times this week that clubs have signed binding contracts to take part.
Lawyers have been ever-present during the whole drama, and the threat of legal reprisal could potentially be looming over the Camp Nou, conditioning what moves Joan Laporta can and cannot make amid the crumbling remains of a failed Super League empire.
On Thursday evening, FC Barcelona released their first statement following the massive public backlash against the concept came on Thursday evening. Unlike most other clubs that released statements either confirming they were pulling their participation or at least alluding to the possibility of backing out, Barcelona did not say anything about their future commitment to the Super League one way or the other beyond agreeing that a review of the proposal was needed.
In the statement, the Blaugrana affirmed their stance that "there is a need for structural reforms to guarantee the financial sustainability and feasibility of world football." The club said "a much more in-depth analysis is required" into understanding the angry response seen across the continent.
Overall, the club strongly echoed the words of its president from just a couple of hours earlier, alluding to the need of a reformation along the lines of the Super League, while reminding that any decision would ultimately be put to club members.