Flashback to the summer of 2000 and in the wake of Florentino Perez’s first dramatic ascension to Real Madrid’s presidency, Barcelona was prized away from the heart and soul of their post-Cruyff side, Luis Figo. And while Figo’s transfer to los merengues was received like a dagger in the heart by Barça fans around the world, the club was left with a hefty sum of money from the transfer.
But what are riches when you are left with only your wounds to lick? That sentiment was shared amongst Barça fans yet compounding the agony for Barça would be the seismic gulf in leadership as Perez’s presidency coincided with a new president over in Catalunya, Joan Gaspart. That gulf in leadership capabilities was exposed as the two presidents presided over their respective clubs in the months that followed.
With newly found injection of cash into its coffers and still with a squad comprised of talented footballers, such as then world player of the year Rivaldo, Barcelona could have dictated its own future by wisely spending the money in buying players that would strengthen a squad that came short in both the domestic league and Champions’ League.
Instead, Gaspart reacted in a knee-jerk way by spending all the funds from a world record transfer on players who were living more on their reputations of seasons past than on what they could actually bring to the table. While Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit were certainly instrumental in Arsenal’s 1997-98 league-cup double season, their abilities had surely waned by the beginning of the 1999-2000 season. Yet along with Valencia’s Gerard Lopez, all the money obtained from the Figo transfer was used to acquire these three players.
Arguably it might have been impossible to find someone as talented as Luis Figo to fill the gap that was left, but Gaspart’s act of desperation could be equated to selling a BMW to purchase three used, albeit fully optioned, Fiats. In Gaspart’s mind he was not going to be outdone and every action by Real Madrid was to be met by an equal and opposite reaction. Yet there was nothing “equal” about these transfers and Barcelona embarked on three seasons of mediocrity capped off by nearly failing to qualify for Europe in Gaspart’s final season at the helm.
Now some nine years later Florentino Perez has returned and has made no hesitation to restore the “galacticos” era to a club that has looked like a stranger to success this past season. The sums of money being secured to bring Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema to the Stantiago Bernabéu are not merely astronomical but may indeed surpass the GDP of certain less fortunate sovereign states, let alone a football club. Yet the point of this article isn’t to discuss the morality of the sums of money being flouted by football clubs. Rather, in light of the spending and acquisition of quality world class footballers, what is the appropriate response by FC Barcelona?
Unlike the summer of 2000, where Barcelona had been touted to win the treble before it all came to a stuttering halt, the summer of 2009 is a time of reflection on the unprecedented success that was brought to Barcelona this past season. And during this period of reflection and contemplation, the presidency and management at the Camp Nou ought to carefully study how to avoid the failures that the Gaspart presidency navigated through in perhaps the darkest years of the club’s history (a period that helped catapult the current president, Joan Laporta, into power). The best way to study failure in hopes of preventing a repeat is to analyze how the failure began. All fingers point to that fateful summer in 2000 when Barça appeared to act in the transfer market more from its newly gained inferiority complex than from sound football based decisions.
Now the temptation over in Camp Nou is to match Real Madrid’s spending capability and bring in some heavyweights to appease anxious supporters and show the world that whatever Real Madrid can do, Barça can do it better. Some see the hunt for David Villa of Valencia to fall into this category. Yet this is the one route that Barcelona should avoid because titles and honors are never won in this fictitious football season we create for ourselves: the transfer season. Furthermore Barça’s successful football philosophy can potentially be hijacked to making a few headlines on the numerous dot com sites (this included) and news dailies around the world by following its rival’s lead.
It is to Barcelona’s good fortune that the men occupying positions of leadership are more level headed and less emotionally prone than Gaspart, who later admitted that his judgment was often overcome by his emotions as a fan of the club. He surely didn’t need to admit something that was so evident after Barça’s 1992 European Cup victory at Wembley when, acting more like a member of the ultra group Boixos Nois, Gaspart flung himself into the Thames River to celebrate.
Unlike Gaspart, Laporta has overseen the club not only secure three trophies this past season whilst showing the world the beauty of attacking, one-touch and flowing football, but did so after overseeing the club win the Champions’ League in 2006. Thus, Laporta is not one to rest on his laurels nor is he one to succumb to the toll that internal politics can inflict on its leaders. But more importantly, as an original member of the Elefant Blau group that attempted to wrest control of the presidency away from the more authoritarian Luis Nuñez in the late 1990s, Laporta has dedicated his presidency to balance the global recognition that Barcelona has gained over the years with preserving its unique identity as a symbol of Catalunya.
And when that ideal is translated into the realm of football, Laporta, football director Txiki Begiristain, manager Josep Guardiola and the fans will appreciate the fact that a little over a month ago seven homegrown players from Barcelona’s cantera (Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernandez, Sergi Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, and Victor Valdes) placed their hands on the Champions’ League trophy in Rome. Success, when it has come to Barça, has always been a blend of homegrown and foreign talent. It is this principle that should guide Barcelona in this transfer market despite all the fireworks going off in Madrid.
No doubt that with each presentation of another record breaking transfer at the Bernabeu the feeling in the Camp Nou is one of awe and perhaps a little envy. And with speculation over Frank Ribéry’s transfer to Real Madrid, the summer may still have a ways to go. Yet Barça must plot within its own parameters on how to retain the success by carefully picking players it needs and not those that merely mirror the abilities of Kaka, Ronaldo and Benzema.
With Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez both marshalling the midfield, Barça might want to address their goalkeeping woes along with signing more adequate defenders should they find themselves in a situation similar to the days leading up to the final played in Rome. With talks of Samuel Eto’o leaving or staying, signing another world class striker such as David Villa is appropriate, not for name value but for ensuring depth in squad talent. There might be a collective consensus amongst Barcelona fans that repeating the treble is asking for too much. Yet the club ought to use that gold standard in guiding its policy in the transfer market and on the pitch in the upcoming season.
The needs of Barcelona should be foremost and unlike Gaspart’s fiasco, this Barcelona is capable of making sound football judgments.