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30.12.2008 11:00

“Finding someone to take over from Frank Rijkaard was really hard”

Aleix Santacana

As 2008 comes to an end, the chairman of FC Barcelona Laporta says members and fans should enjoy the good times the club is going through. He also looks back over the year and admits that it was very hard “to find a good replacement for Rijkaard".

Speaking to Barça TV and www.fcbarcelona.cat, the chairman of FC Barcelona reviews some of the most important decisions of 2008, such as the change of manager, and looks at what’s going to be important in the immediate future of the club.

Did you imagine in August that everything would go so well?

"We’d taken some decisions in the belief that things would turn out well, but what the football first team’s done is way beyond expectations and I’m really pleased with how things are going."

Choosing Guardiola was risky but he seems to be on the right track.

11-11-08_GUARDIOLA_01.jpg"It was an important decision because it meant changing the manager of the football first team, and that’s one of the most important decisions you can take. It’s true it wasn’t supported by all, but nonetheless we chose Guardiola. We thought things would go well because he knows more about football and about the club than just about anyone, plus he’s also from here as a home-grown player and manager. We’ve only just started really and there’s still some way to go, but we believe things are on the right lines. However, I would repeat that we have to be cautious and calm about it and keep our feet on the ground."

Guardiola means Barça will keep the style that’s so admired around the world and maybe update it.

"That’s right. Guardiola is keeping the essence and football philosophy of Barça with an attacking game, looking to win right from the kick-off and playing possession football as it’s taught in our academy, and above all with an intense commitment and a willingness to fight to the end. That gives it a touch of quality which is very much Pep’s way; I think he’s brought it up to date and is doing things that are appreciated all around the world."

It’s been a smooth changeover in terms of playing style.

WEB_PARTIDO_08.jpg“I think it’s important to stress something here; we have to be grateful to the past. We have to be grateful to people like Frank Rijkaard and other players who have led this team and are now no longer here. They’ve also helped towards the good times we’re going through now. Some of our players have learnt a lot from others who’ve since left the club. The change in manager has been important but we still have to be grateful to those who went before. Frank Rijkaard has given us a lot and laid the groundwork for what the team is doing now and how it’s playing. I know that Pep Guardiola is grateful to him as well because it’s been Frank and Txiki who’ve been building the squad over the last few years. Pep Guardiola has brought order and control, but we also need to mention Txiki Begiristain who produces competitive squads every season. Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola are two coaches who project an excellent image for Barça all round the world. Finding someone to take over from Frank Rijkaard was really hard. He’d done a really good job and built a positive image for Barcelona. Pep has his own style but one that’s comparable with Frank’s, two different ways of doing things but both equally valid for managing Barça’s first team.

What does the chairman of FC Barcelona feel when everyone is talking about Barça academy players as being crucial for Pep Guardiola’s side?

"It’s the greatest feeling of pride a Barça chairman can have. It’s come about because of a number of different reasons: because the academy works well, because there’s a coach who knows what’s going on and is brave enough to pick home-grown players, and thirdly because we have a technical secretary in Txiki Begiristain who’s put together a competitive squad. Results have varied – this is sport, after all, and you win some and you lose some – but the track record is good with two League titles and the Champions League. The technical secretary sets up the squads so that academy players can reach the first team, and then it’s up to the manager as to whether they play or not."

Do recent contract extensions for players like Xavi and Busquets show that the board is committed to home-grown players?

web_busquets_renova_02.jpg"I’ve always thought that clubs which are committed to their academy players have a style of play which is taught in their academy and are also financially much more viable and sustainable. And what’s most important, it keeps the core of the club’s identity alive. So yes, I do think this is one of the key factors about FC Barcelona."

People are now talking about two new pillars in the club’s management: solidarity and internationalisation. Is this part of a new policy at Barça?

"Barça evolves and has to adapt to a changing world. Barça has always been more than a club, but this concept needs to be updated and renewed. The model is good but it needs to evolve all the time. If you like, Barça was a Formula 1 car with three wheels, sports, economics and the social aspect. Now it’s a Formula 1 car with these three wheels and two more, namely solidarity and the internationalisation of the club."

The club has made a lot of progress in these two areas.

"We’ve been pioneers in solidarity and charity work. We are fully aware of the club’s corporate social responsibility; we have to give back to society part of what society has given us, because that’s why we are who we are. And hence Barça is more than a club in the world. At UNICEF, for example, they’ve recently presented us as an example of what a football club can do to combat a devastating disease like AIDS. Barça has partnered programmes in Swaziland and now we’re in Angola. Plus with our XICS programme we’re also helping kids in Catalonia; we’ve opened our first XICS centre at Santa Coloma de Gramanet and that’s important. Recently we’ve also been at the European Parliament, with Lillian Thuram’s Foundation..."

And also over the last few weeks there’s been the MÉS project...

Fy08_MES_PR_Barca_away_C.jpg"This project is especially important to me. We’ve done it with Nike and the UNHCR to help kids who are in refugee camps because of natural disasters or wars. This line of ecological clothing that Nike makes and which is branded MÉS is sold in all Nike’s stores worldwide. MÉS is a Catalan word which means ‘more’ and comes out of the phrase “more than a club”, so I’m especially pleased because it’s a way of promoting our language and our country with a charity project."

Does Barça see globalisation as an opportunity to be bigger around the world?

"We want to be global to be stronger. That means that globalisation has to be an opportunity for Barça. So we have strategies in place to promote Barça’s image all around the world, and especially in the US because we think that it is a very important country in which to promote Barça’s image. Plus it’s also something of virgin territory in football terms, so over there we have programmes such as the summer tour, charity projects with Malaria No More and so on. Recently we’ve also put in a bid with some investors for a franchise in Miami to play in the US’s professional soccer league. Barça’s responsibility and challenge with this team will be to make it competitive and that’ll help to promote Barça’s image in the US. But obviously there will only ever be one Barça, which is the one here in Catalonia in Barcelona."

Is Barça ready to face the crisis that the whole world is experiencing?

3.jpg"Yes, fortunately we are because we’ve take the necessary precautionary measures. Financially we’ve reached an agreement with Nike which is perhaps the best contract on the market, and we also have one with Mediapro for Barça’s broadcasting rights. These two contracts mean we can face up to this crisis with a sense of security as they give us a cushion. We’ve reviewed some processes but I am confident we’ll achieve our goals and attain the surplus and profit targets we set for this year. We do have to keep on working of course, and we’ve got a new CEO in Joan Oliver who’s the brains behind everything we’re doing in the financial, social and sports areas. Plus we also paid off all our bank debt last October. I feel that only companies which have been able to reduce their debts will be able to get through this crisis with the peace of mind you need."

What’s your wish for club members in 2009?

"I would say to them that they should enjoy the good times Barça is going through now. Football teaches you a lot of things, and one of them is that you have to make the most of the good times, albeit with caution and humility. I’d also urge them to help make sure that between us we can make this a great season for Barça. I wish them all a Happy New Year and long live Barça!
“Finding someone to take over from Frank Rijkaard was really hard”
The new Camp Nou and the by-laws
When talking about the new project for the club you always mention Norman Foster’s new Camp Nou. Why is that?

"I want Barça members and fans to come to see this as a social project, because we want a stadium that’s more comfortable and safer and therefore better for Barcelona members. It’s a social project because we want a modern stadium that meets contemporary needs. We want the members to get a more intense Barça experience through the use of new technology. Then it’s a social project because it’s a city project. When Barça’s current ground was opened back in 1957 it was also a means of giving an economic and social boost to the Les Corts districts. I’m sure that the remodelling of Nou Camp by Norman Foster will both set standards worldwide and also provide a similar boost. It’ll be good for the district and for the city. I know that the local council and the national government see it that way because it involves the development and renewal of an entire district. I would like to make it clear that all the revenue we get from the development of the Miniestadi will go straight into more assets, into remodelling Camp Nou and into building a new Palau arena. I’d like Barça members and fans to engage with the project because it is the present and the future of the club."

The club’s legal commission is working on new by-laws for FC Barcelona. What will they be like?

"They’ll be modern by-laws which provide dynamic regulation of the club in line with prevailing legislation. We want them to be, as they always have been, a benchmark in democracy and the involvement of members. I’d like them to be by-laws which adapt to the existing social reality."

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