“It is all too easy to remember the victories and forget the defeats. Victory is the aim and the glory. Defeat is painful. Would it be any wonder if we had a selective memory bias towards victory and found it better to set aside defeat to some dark, neglected corner of the mind?” (Football: The Philosophy Behind the Game by Stephen Mumford, 2019).
Real Madrid and FC Barcelona are the two staples of Spain who have often (if not always) dictated the quality of football in the region. Real Madrid’s illustrious presence at the Spanish and European summit has built the club’s stature over the years. Barcelona are behind in both cases but not that far off. It is not an understatement by any means: The glamour, the finesse, the star-studded rosters, and the global following of these European superpowers are down to their success stories, more often than not.
Joan Laporta — the newly elected President of FC Barcelona — found Florentino Perez as his counterpart in 2003 when he took charge of the Catalan club. During Laporta’s seven-year reign (June 2003 - June 2010), Florentino Perez (June 2000 - February 2006) resigned from Real Madrid’s presidency, Luis Gómez-Montejano (April 2006 - July 2006) took charge in an acting role, Ramon Calderon (July 2006 - January 2009) got elected, and then he left the club at the hands of interim President Vicente Boluda (January 2009-May 2009).
In the summer of 2009, Florentino Perez got re-elected right around the time Barcelona won the treble. Since Florentino took charge again, he saw Laporta’s first stint come to an end in 2010 and saw two other Barcelona Presidents resigning over internal irregularities. Sandro Rosell (July 2010 - January 2014) and Josep Maria Bartomeu (January 2014 - October 2020) both eventually got arrested, and in 2021, Laporta made a reappearance as Florentino’s counterpart. However, the realities of the two clubs are lightyears apart from the time when both Florentino Perez and Joan Laporta became presidents for the first time.
Their biggest success stories do not really intertwine with each other’s previous stints. They are on a more exclusive timeline. Laporta’s Barcelona did not win the treble against Florentino’s Madrid. Similarly, during Madrid’s ravaging run in the UEFA Champions League from 2014-2018, Barcelona had a different president. Barcelona won two La Liga titles (2004-05 and 2009-10), a Copa del Rey title (2010) and a Supercopa de Espana title (2005) while Laporta and Florentino were presidents of their respective clubs at the same time. During their coinciding tenures, Real Madrid only won a Supercopa de Espana title in 2003-04. In 2021, both presidents have contrasting yet equally difficult challenges to make their clubs more competitive in an economic climate that is hostile for football, to say the least.
Their presidential styles could not be more different than each other. Joan Laporta thought it would be good for his PR campaign (before the FC Barcelona elections) to have a giant-billboard with his photo near the renovation area of the Santiago Bernabeu stadium. It’s pretty safe to say, Florentino in his wildest day, would not consider having a giant-billboard with this face on it, near the Camp Nou just to ‘spice-up’ the PR game.
Florentino’s flamboyance in the transfer market is almost extinct now. His entire presidential campaign in 2000 was built around signing Luis Figo from Barcelona. His project in 2009 saw Real Madrid sign two Ballon D’or winners in the same window. Madrid’s colossal transfer window of summer 2009 even caught the attention of the Catalan Church.
Laporta claimed in 2009 that Madrid’s spending did not worry him, insisting: ‘I’m terribly tranquil.’ But still, he complained that Madrid’s signings policy was ‘imperialist’ and ‘arrogant’. The Catalan media splashed the words ‘scandal’, ‘disgrace’ and ‘shameful’ across their front covers and even the Catalan Church expressed its distaste. (Fear and Loathing in La Liga by Sid Lowe, 2013)
In 2021, Florentino is more focused on his youth-based project, finishing the renovation of the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, and keeping the club economically stable. Real Madrid’s youth-project has not materialized according to its original plan due to a variety of reasons. The current sporting project doesn’t seem to be on the same page with the club’s constant need to be successful at the top level. Talent retention has also been an issue. Finding the balance between a sustainable youth-project and managing the expectations of delivering silverware at any cost, will be Florentino’s biggest challenge in the coming years.
Barcelona is facing a bigger economic and organizational crisis but they are still handsomely fighting for a domestic double by mid-March of 2021. Lionel Messi is once again largely responsible for Barcelona's surge in the Copa del Rey and La Liga this season. Convincing him to continue at Barcelona would be Laporta’s primary priority. Messi’s debut and his blossoming years to be a world-beater — all of it was during Laporta’s first stint. Scenes from Laporta’s 2021 inauguration would encourage the Blaugrana faithful but we might still have to wait until the end of the season to know the future of our arch-rival’s captain.
In a recent episode of the Churros y Tácticas podcast, Kiyan Sobhani explained that Laporta’s second homecoming could actually be a good thing for Real Madrid. Both Madrid and Barcelona have previously pushed each other to become better versions of themselves. They have even pushed their players to be better among peers. The Cristiano Ronaldo - Leo Messi duel was at its peak when both of them played in La Liga. This rivalry never reached similar heights when Ronaldo played in other leagues. El Clasico has been a point of reference in Spanish culture and politics. The healthiest part of it is perhaps the urge to build a better version of Real Madrid so that it can fearlessly compete against a better version of Barcelona. Among many things of the renewed rivalry between Florentino Perez and Joan Laporta, we must pay attention to how they devise their next plan to make each club better than what they currently are.