Convince Messi, re-establish La Masia, manage financial crisis - Laporta's to-do list as Barcelona's new president

By Sports Desk March 08, 2021

A new era begins in earnest for Barcelona, with Joan Laporta's second spell as president confirmed on Sunday following his victory in the election.

Regarded as arguably the most important political event at the club in a generation, much was said to be riding on the collective decision of the socios, or members, who voted.

Laporta, Toni Freixa and Victor Font had spent months outlining their plans in public, with La Masia, the club's crippling debt and the tumult caused by the previous administration among the main focuses.

But outsiders can be forgiven for thinking the election essentially boiled down to which candidate stood the best chance of convincing Lionel Messi to stay.

Laporta's first spell as president, from 2003 to 2010, coincided with Messi's rise from the youth ranks to global star, while he was also in charge when Pep Guardiola was promoted to the top job 2008.

While nostalgia may have played a strong part in Laporta's ascension, 54 per cent of voters feel he is the best man to navigate a challenging period – but what are the most important tasks facing him?

Messi – Should he stay, or should he go?

Laporta stopped short of insisting Messi will definitely stay put under his administration, which was probably wise given he only has a few months left on his contract. Fans would have surely seen through such a promise.

However, what he did throughout his campaign was emphasise his relationship with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner, while also pointing out Messi's lack of familiarity with his rivals.

"I am the only one who can ensure his continuity. If I don't win, I'm sure Leo won't continue at Barca," Laporta said at last week's debate. "He was not very happy with Freixa's time [Laporta's rival was an ally of the discredited Josep Maria Bartomeu], when they let him see that he was expendable."

Of course, Messi attempted to force an exit last year, but his refusal to drag the issue through the courts meant Barca managed to keep hold of their prized asset.

Since then he has insisted his future is tied to the competitiveness of Barca. Laporta's discussions with him will be key, but they could be undermined should Ronald Koeman's men collapse in the latter stages of the season.

Make La Masia a force again

For years Barcelona's La Masia academy was the jewel of the club, the inspiration behind many hugely successful teams and the school that developed some of the finest players to play the game.

Even though a significant portion of the current squad have come through the ranks, La Masia's standing isn't quite what it once was and the likes of Messi, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique are all into their thirties.

But Laporta emphasised the importance of the academy during his campaign, adamant he would look to restore it to its former glory, previously saying: "It will be our pillar, the backbone of the club's values."

Nevertheless, with Ansu Fati emerging as a ready-made star and Ilaix Moriba recently establishing himself as one to watch, La Masia's reputation is already receiving a timely boost.

Sell high-earning fringe players

Eric Abidal's spell as sporting director was ill-fated, to say the least. A day after sacking Quique Setien in August, the Frenchman was unceremoniously dismissed as well, with his overseeing of transfers making him a contentious figure long before he was eventually shown the door.

Among his purchases were the likes of Kevin-Prince Boateng, Malcom, Jeison Murillo, Junior Firpo and Antoine Griezmann – it'd be difficult to consider any of those successes.

Granted, not all of his signings have been poor, with Pedri, Clement Lenglet and Frenkie de Jong brought in under his watch, but over the past few years the club has spent a significant amount of money on sub-standard players or underperforming so-called 'superstars'

As such, the Barca squad is bloated in terms of its wage expenditure and many of the back-up players are expected to be put up for sale, easing the financial strain and boosting revenues.

But before Barca can begin outlining transfer plans and a potentially revised recruitment strategy, Laporta needs to do something else…

Establish a new sporting department

Laporta is expected to bring his own people in to manage the club's sporting structure, and Jordi Cruyff – of course, the son of Barca icon Johan – is among the frontrunners for the sporting director post.

Cruyff is still thought to have significant influence and respect inside the club due to his family name, with the former Manchester United player recently affirming to Cadena Ser that he believes his father would have always backed Laporta in an election.

Mateu Alemany, former Valencia general manager, is also widely reported to be on his way in.

Alemany had played a major role Valencia's resurgence during the previous decade but left under something of a cloud in November 2019, with the Frenchman and club owner Peter Lim at odds.

Lim had dismissed popular head coach Marcelino Garcia Toral, of whom Alemany was a staunch backer, and that left the general manager's position looking untenable, particular after local reports claimed he wasn't even consulted about the subsequent appointment of Albert Celades.

Very little has gone right for Valencia since the exits of Marcelino and Alemany – their reputations, however, have remained firmly intact.

Strengthen the squad while managing debt

It's no secret that Barcelona's financial state is a mess – they have amassed €1.2billion in debt and that has unsurprisingly impacted their clout in the transfer market.

One of Laporta's main messages ahead of the election was that Barca needed a board and president with experience in such a tricky time, and that's certainly something he has in abundance.

In his first interview since being elected, Laporta stressed the need to make the club financially stable. He told Catalunya Radio: "The first thing will be to do an audit but first I will greet the workers. The club is in mismanagement and now we will finally be able to make the necessary decisions. We will do an audit and apply our shock plan so that Barca is economically sustainable."

Drastic changes could be on the cards, yet despite the financial state of the club, they will still need to work on improving the squad.

Juggling the two won't be straightforward, particularly when you add Messi's demand for competitiveness into the mix.

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  • 'One-in-a-million' Pedri becoming more than Iniesta's heir at Barca after snow interrupted Real Madrid trial 'One-in-a-million' Pedri becoming more than Iniesta's heir at Barca after snow interrupted Real Madrid trial

    The snowfall that hit Madrid in February 2018 initially appeared worse than it was, with the seas of white that engulfed fields, pitches and gardens in Spain's capital clearing quicker than one might have expected.

    It was enough to cause Real Madrid to cancel their training for the day on February 5, allowing Cristiano Ronaldo an unexpected day off on his birthday – though certain sections of the media were particularly critical of the club for essentially shutting down with a crucial Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain little more than a week away.

    As it happened, Madrid went on to claim a third successive European crown, so the issue of a day off almost certainly won't have been raised again. However, it was this snowfall that proved a major disruption to the trial of a kid from the Canary Islands who was "about to sign", according to his father.

    Pedri, 15 at the time, did not join Real Madrid. While he may have been shown the cold shoulder amid the snowfall, the midfielder subsequently signed with local side Las Palmas. And then Barcelona came calling.

    Almost a year on from initially agreeing a deal with the Blaugrana, Pedri's presentation at Barca in August 2020 came at a particularly difficult time for the club, but those in the know were well aware that the teenager's arrival was a real coup.

    Made for Barca

    A diminutive, but effortlessly silky midfielder, it's little wonder Pedri linked up with Barca. "I have that Barca DNA," he said to EFE in his first major interview after his move was confirmed in 2019. "My desire is to resemble [Andres] Iniesta. I have always said he is my idol and he'll remain that until I die."

    Pedri's rise was impressive. In a little over a year, he progressed through the Juvenil A, B and Division de Honor teams in Las Palmas' academy before being introduced into the first-team picture in 2019 for pre-season.

    He quickly became an undisputed starter – he initially didn't expect to even reach the Division de Honor team in 2019-20.

    Las Palmas had been cautious about showing him off too early, aware that such a talent would immediately attract offers. Instead, they reportedly waited until they had him secured to a professional contract with a €30million release clause and then promised they'd sell him to an interested party straight away.

    Barca made their move in September 2019. An initial €6m could become €25m should Pedri meet certain criteria at Camp Nou – and at this point, few would bet against him.

    Once again Real Madrid were left frustrated, with a second attempt to sign Pedri coming too late – not that they would have necessarily been successful otherwise, as the teenager's father is the president of a local Barcelona supporters' club, which his grandfather founded.

    "Barca DNA" indeed.

    "One in a million"

    Pepe Mel was the coach who put his faith in Pedri back in 2019, the experienced tactician clearly stunned by the youngster's abilities.

    "Look at this boy, because he's one in a million and he doesn't know it," Mel said at the time. "He will define a new era in Spanish football."

    A bold prediction of one so young, but Pedri took to first-team football with immense comfort, his performances in the Segunda in 2019-20 suggesting he was ready for LaLiga straight away and that Mel's foretelling was on the money.

    While he displayed the skillset to play virtually anywhere across the midfield for Las Palmas, by his own admission Pedri felt most effective in the centre where he can take the game to the opposition, exploit gaps in defences and dazzle with his close dribbling.

    Despite his age, Pedri was a key player for Las Palmas last season, scoring four goals and setting up another six. Six of those goal involvements came in the first 10 matches of the campaign, highlighting there was a bit of a dip in terms of overall productivity – though he was still effective.

    Despite missing a chunk of the 2019-20 campaign to take part in the Under-17 World Cup in October and November, Pedri played more league matches (36) than anyone else for Las Palmas and his 60 chances created was unmatched among team-mates. Only nine players in the entire league produced more key passes.

    Nineteen Segunda players attempted more dribbles than Pedri's 108, but only three of those could better his 62 per cent completion rate.

    And of 1,284 attempted passes, 80 per cent found a team-mate. While by no means a startling statistic on its own, context is key – many of those with better records on the face of it were central defenders or players operating in less-congested areas of the pitch than Pedri.

    One thing was abundantly clear: Pedri was already operating at a high level for a 17-year-old, and with something of a new era sweeping over Camp Nou when he arrived in August, it perhaps wasn't a surprise to see him settle quickly.

    It had initially been expected that Pedri would spend another season on loan in the second tier with Las Palmas, or move to Barca's B team had they been promoted to the Segunda.

    Then he began attracting loan interest from LaLiga clubs, but in Ronald Koeman he found a coach ready to give him the opportunity.

    He's certainly taken it.

    Fitting the mould

    While there was never any doubt about Pedri's technical abilities, adapting his game to fit in at a club with a style of play as iconic and ingrained as Barca's was likely – in theory – to take time. Regardless of how things work at Las Palmas, Barcelona are simply a different beast in every way, shape or form.

    Yet, arguably the most impressive element of Pedri's breakout season is how quickly he's managed to immerse himself intrinsically in Barca's philosophy, so much so that talk of being "Iniesta's heir" doesn't sound quite so reactionary anymore, which in itself shows his progress.

    The best way to showcase how he's adapted to life at Barca is by looking at sequence involvement data, which outlines how integral to a team's build-up play a certain player is.

    The only midfielders involved in more passing sequences ending in a shot than Pedri (136) have been Nabil Fekir of Real Betis (143) and Barcelona's own Frenkie de Jong (152), both of whom have played considerably more minutes in LaLiga.

    Pedri also ranks similarly high in terms of secondary chance creation – so, the pass to the player who sets up the subsequent shot – with Messi (64), Dani Parejo (37) and Fekir (36) the only individuals beating his 31.

    When you also factor in that Pedri's 37 chances created this term puts him behind only Messi (65) and Jordi Alba (42) in the Barca team, this all highlights just how much influence the now 18-year-old already has on their general play.

    Not only is he frequently teeing up shots himself, but he's one of Barca's most-involved players when it comes to retaining possession as they probe packed defences. And it's not as if Pedri is constantly offloading the ball once he has possession either - he has created eight chances following a carry (defined as a movement of at least five metres with the ball), the third most among central midfielders in LaLiga this term, evidence his ability on the ball also helps drive Barca forward and spark opportunities.

    It's precisely these factors that make comparisons with Iniesta seem more sensible, particularly since Koeman recognised he'd be at his most effective in the middle.

    But Pedri, who earned his first senior Spain caps last month, appears to have the quality to carve out his own lasting legacy at Camp Nou. A first experience of winning silverware in Saturday's Copa del Rey final will surely just be the start if Barca see off Athletic Bilbao.

    Snow may have prevented a move to Madrid three years ago, but Pedri's outlook at Barcelona is gloriously bright.

  • Rumour Has It: Man Utd want Fofana as Liverpool still eye Konate Rumour Has It: Man Utd want Fofana as Liverpool still eye Konate

    A new defender appears to be at the forefront of Manchester United's planning.

    The Premier League giants have been linked with a host of centre-backs.

    But they could turn to a familiar club to bolster their defence.

     

    TOP STORY – ANOTHER LEICESTER DEFENDER SET FOR OLD TRAFFORD?

    Manchester United are eyeing Leicester City defender Wesley Fofana, according to Foot Mercato.

    United are targeting a new partner for former Leicester star Harry Maguire – the world's most expensive centre-back – amid links to RB Leipzig's Ibrahima Konate, Sevilla's Jules Kounde, Villarreal defender Pau Torres and Real Madrid pair Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

    Fofana only joined Leicester from Saint-Etienne at the start of the season and is contracted until 2025.

     

    ROUND-UP

    - Fabrizio Romano says Konate remains one of Liverpool's top transfer targets. Liverpool are reportedly preparing a five-year contract.

    Arsenal are targeting Rennes and France sensation Eduardo Camavinga, reports Marca. The 18-year-old midfielder, who has already rejected a contract extension, has been linked with Madrid, United and Paris Saint-Germain.

    - Inter's Martin Satriano is attracting interest from Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, PSG and Leipzig, claims the Daily Mail.

    - Tottenham are considering a move for Barcelona's Emerson, says Mundo Deportivo. The 22-year-old is currently on loan at Real Betis amid links with Inter and PSG.

    Atletico Madrid are eyeing Juventus sensation Nicolo Rovella and Udinese's Nahuel Molina, according to Mundo Deportivo.

    - Gazzetta dello Sport reports Milan have enquired about Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan as the Serie A side consider alternatives to Gianluigi Donnarumma should he fail to sign a contract extension. Meanwhile, SportItalia says Milan have offered Inter full-back Danilo D'Ambrosio a two-year deal. The Italian is out of contract at season's end.

  • Barca president Laporta 'convinced' Messi will remain at Camp Nou Barca president Laporta 'convinced' Messi will remain at Camp Nou

    Barcelona president Joan Laporta is "convinced" Lionel Messi will sign a new contract to stay with the LaLiga giants.

    Messi is out of contract at the end of the season and the 33-year-old's future with Barca is far from certain amid strong links to Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City.

    Laporta remains determined to re-sign Messi, who has spent his entire senior career at Camp Nou.

    As Barca prepare for Saturday's Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao, Laporta was asked about the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

    "Everything is progressing adequately," Laporta told Deportes Cuatro.

    "I will do everything within the club's capabilities to get him to stay. That's what we're doing. Messi is motivated.

    "He is an extraordinary person and I am convinced that he will want to continue at Barca."

    Messi has scored a league-high 23 goals and supplied eight assists in 28 LaLiga appearances for Barca this season.

    In total, Messi has netted 29 goals across all competitions in 2020-21.

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