Florentino Pérez: Barça's eternal rival or a necessary cooperator?
Joan Laporta plays host to Madrid president 12 years after their last derby together at Camp Nou
BarcelonaIn the absence of the legendary Leo Messi and Sergio Ramos, who will be watching from Paris, old traditions will be revived this Sunday in the first derby (el clásico) of the 21/22 season. First of all, the presence of the public at the Camp Nou, which has not been subject to any capacity restrictions for a week now and will record the best attendance so far this year at a very favourable time of day, although it is another matter of whether it fills to capacity or not. The Barça-Madrid match will also have a prolegomenon in which Els segadors will be played: this is the protocol when the match is presided over by the highest institutional representative of Catalonia, which has not happened since 2015. Pere Aragonès will occupy the usual seat of Joan Laporta, who will also play host to Florentino Pérez, the president of FC Barcelona, for the first time since he took over the Catalan government.
The handshake between the two most mediatic presidents in Spanish football will be generously photographed because it has not happened in these circumstances for 12 years. We have to go back to 29 November, 2009 to find the last precedent, with Guardiola and Pellegrini on the dugouts of the two teams. Ibrahimovic settled in favour of the home side the first clásico for Cristiano and Benzema, who had landed at the Santiago Bernabéu as the main pillars of Florentino's second Real Madrid project, intiated without the need to go through the ballot box after Ramon Calderon's tumultuous three-year term.
That 2009 clásico, the one between Ibrahimovic and Guardiola, prior to the achievement of the famous six goals, was Laporta's last at the Camp Nou during his first spell as Barça president. More than a decade later, with more wrinkles and grey hair, the Barcelona lawyer is reunited in the Aristides Maillol box with Florentino, for whom the years have also passed, after having regained the reins of the Barcelona club in a context of crisis and decline. Around 30,000 members trusted him to reverse the drift of the entity with the determination he exhibited in his first government (2003-2010), in which he became a scourge of Madridism. His unhibited Catalan-oriented style and his vision when it came to approaching business, going out into the transfer market or getting complicity in the corridors embittered Florentino, who with him as the president of the club was unable to celebrate either La Liga or Champions League at Cibeles. Laporta capitalised on this memory by putting up a giant banner next to the Bernabeu. "We can't wait to see you again", it read. The strategy was noted in the elections on 7 March.
A banner without real consequences, for the moment
However, seven months after the ballot box, the mockery has not exactly translated into a hotter rivalry. Quite the opposite: Florentino has become a key player, albeit in the background, of the first months of Laporta's government. The Madrid president is a necessary cooperator at a time of general upheaval in the football industry.
The clearest example of this harmony is the Superleague, a project in which the two leaders go hand in hand with Andrea Agnelli, owner of Juventus. The creation of a new competition in spite of UEFA's monopoly and against the criteria of the state leagues is vital to understand Laporta's complicity with Florentino. The Madrid president is the main promoter of the initiative and has arranged high revenues just to found it, money that would also be good for Barça to get out of the financial impasse in which it is immersed.
The support for this business route is related to the refusal of the two Spanish football giants to the financing that La Liga offers through the CVC fund, an interest-free injection that Laporta accepted in July because it allowed him to renew Leo Messi but which he ended up rejecting - as a result, the Argentine star left for PSG - at the behest of his CEO, Ferran Reverter, and his vice-president and main guarantor, Eduard Romeu. Both, according to several sources, were alerted by Florentino, who is also a crucial figure in talks with the Spanish government to change the rules on guarantees. To secure their government, Laporta and his board have two options: to restructure the current guarantee (117 million) with other backers to compensate for the departure of Jaume Roures, or to aim for a decree law to be passed before 30 November, which is the deadline. The second possibility requires the influence of the Madrid president, with whom, by the way, Romeu has met this week in Madrid, as reported by Sport. The vice-president and his partner José Elías, Laporta's endorser, are great admirers of Florentino. They share a business vision and investment bank, Goldman Sachs, which is also in the middle of Barça's main credit operations.