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HOME LOCAL MIDEAST ASIA WORLD BUSINESS SPORT OPINION WRITERS
Homage to a president
By Abdalla M. Taryam June 17, 2010
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While most of the planet focus on the ongoing noisy World Cup, I glance away for a moment to search the web for the latest voting results of the Barcelona Football Club elections.  I was curious to know who would have the monumental task of following Joan Laporta as the new Blaugrana President.
 
Laporta started his association with the football club back in 1998 when, as an ambitious lawyer, he challenged the long-standing President Josep Nunez forcing him into a vote of no confidence. Although unsuccessful in his first endeavor he eventually seized the chance of running for the vacant presidency in 2003. Facing the more established competition, he charmed his way into the Barça hot seat by arming himself with a talented team and a promise.  A promise he could not keep.
 
That broken promise was David Beckham and what a rewarding letdown it was. The disappointment of not signing the English poster boy drove Laporta to fight tooth and nail to bring the buck-toothed wonder to the Camp Nou.  Although some skeptics didn’t initially believe that Ronaldinho was an acceptable alternative, it wasn’t long until Laporta’s first bit of business was considered genius.
 
It was the first building block of many to come and after surviving the abysmal results of the first half of his first season; Laporta saw his team skyrocket towards the summit of La Liga standings. A 17 match unbeaten streak coupled with a win at their favorite hunting ground, the Bernabeu, gave them a 2nd place finish and more importantly left Beckham with nothing to show for from his first season in Spain.
 
Good form on the pitch was not the only thing Laporta claimed in his first season. He took on a personal initiative to eradicate violence from the game by banning the Boixos Nois hooligans from the stadium. This group of neo-fascist thugs battled the new president to the extent of unsuccessfully trying to kidnap him, but he was not deterred like some of his predecessors.
 
Another achievement credited to his team was the mammoth reduction in debt that was crippling the club. He incorporated a business model with a reliance on the youth academy to increase revenues and stop exorbitant spending, which allowed for funds to be spent on adding the finishing touches to the squad with players such as Deco and Samuel Eto’o. That squad cemented Laporta’s legacy in Barça history as they went on to win 2 consecutive league titles and the European crown.
 
With sporting and economic stability, Laporta proceeded to his next objective. He highlighted the fact that an institute like FC Barcelona had social and humanitarian commitments and moved to rubberstamp his greatest initiative yet. For a century Barcelona had turned down overtures of defacing its shirt with commercial advertising, but when it came to finally approve a sponsor, Laporta signaled a new era by choosing a charity as its partner. While other European sides enjoyed the millions from promoting gambling and alcoholic beverages, Barcelona stepped on to the field gloriously displaying the logo of UNICEF.  Through this sponsorship Laporta set up a foundation to project the club’s name around the world in an innovative and beneficial manner. Indeed Barça has now become ‘more than a club.’
 
No presidency ends without its fair share of controversies and following two barren seasons in his second term, the fans and board members started grumbling and accusations of authoritarianism started flying. As pressure mounted, Laporta battled for his ideas leading to tens of board members and administrators walking out on him. Barely surviving a no-confidence motion before the start of the 2008 season, he presented the members with his project for getting Barça back to winning ways, and what a project it was.
 
Spearheaded by club legend Pep Guardiola as manager, Barcelona got rid of the dead wood from the previous championship team. With a squad comprising mainly of academy players and a few new signings to fill the voids they went about conquering the World. In his first ever year as manager Pep Guardiola thanked Laporta for his faith in him by delivering an unprecedented 6 titles on the trot including the elusive World Club Championship that was held in Abu Dhabi.
 
How do you judge success in sports? Many say titles are the only thing that matter. Well if that’s the case then Laporta has delivered 12 titles in his 7-year term and that’s only counting the football team. If it’s records you demand then let me assure you that in the last 2 seasons every record from wins, points scored, goals scored and many more have been broken. Global exposure for the clubs name? The Barcelona website is the only team page that currently boasts versions in 6 different languages including Chinese and Arabic. Surely these are the accomplishments of a great sporting president. Señor Laporta, I salute you.     

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