Viva Barca!

Two years ago, FC Barcelona, the world's biggest football club, was in big trouble, with spiralling debts, a corrupt board and a woeful team. That's when a group of cocksure young entrepreneurs stepped in, determined to restore Catalan pride. Justin Webster was by their side to record the death threats, despair and eventual delerium of a miraculous turnaround
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By the spring of 2003, the football club with the biggest membership in the world, and the largest stadium in Europe, had sunk into one of the worst crises of its 104-year history. FC Barcelona, or Barça, was crippled by debts and demoralised by the increasingly sad performances of its players, and the moral and financial chaos of their management.

By the spring of 2003, the football club with the biggest membership in the world, and the largest stadium in Europe, had sunk into one of the worst crises of its 104-year history. FC Barcelona, or Barça, was crippled by debts and demoralised by the increasingly sad performances of its players, and the moral and financial chaos of their management.

Barça provides a few million Catalans, of all classes and ages, and both sexes, with enough drama, tactical debate, intrigue and passion, to keep several soap operas going. Talking about Barça was how I had learnt a lot of the Spanish, and Catalan that I now speak, after living in Barcelona for the past 13 years.

The matches appear as punctuation to a much longer-running story, linked to Catalonia's own struggles over its identity, and status. As a stateless nation of seven million inhabitants, it needs symbols. In Barcelona the game is also political in a more basic, classical sense. The people of the "polis" turn up to a performance. " Avui patirem" is the popular catchphrase: "Today we will suffer." They seek collective catharsis, and a theatrical reaffirmation of their identity - much more than simply watching a bunch of blokes kicking a ball around.

By the spring of 2003, I was sufficiently tuned in to pick up the emotional ground swell: a desire for change. The club's then president, Joan Gaspart, typified a style of crowd-pleasing and horse-trading that looked increasingly out-dated. Barça's eternal rival, Real Madrid, seemed to inhabit a different galaxy. The glorious memories of the "Dream Team", managed by Johan Cruyff, which dominated the Spanish league and won the European Cup in 1992, were fading. Cruyff's sacking in 1996 by Gaspart's long-standing predecessor, Josep Luis Nuñez, had split the membership. By the time Gaspart admitted defeat, and resigned, he had become the target of violent abuse. Suspicions of corruption, as well as incompetence, were prompted by court cases over the huge transfer fees that had been paid out.

From a filmmaker's point of view I could see the chance, for the first time, of a really intimate insider's view of how a big football club works. Barça is owned by its (then) 103,000 members, who have the right to vote. Elections were called. Six candidates stepped forward to compete for the post of president. As a Barça fan I knew that any serious candidate would have to offer transparency and straight-talking, in place of the obfuscation and confusion of the past. Precisely because letting cameras into the private parts of the club would have been unthinkable before, it could be a good idea now.

22 May, 2003 I send a proposal to make an observational documentary about the coming regime to the BBC commissioning editor Nick Fraser, because I know he is interested in films on football clubs that are not just about football. He immediately says he is interested. I call in Daniel Wolf, in London, as executive producer and guarantor of experience for the BBC, and I invite Pablo Usón and Daniel Hernández of Alea TV in Barcelona, to share the project as financial and creative partners. Jordi Ambros, at the Catalan broadcaster TV3, also backs us. The wheels start turning slowly on what becomes a nine-way international co-production with a budget of €350,000 (£240,000). At this stage we still don't know if its viable.

10 June, 2003 "Five days before the elections the youngest candidate, a 40-year-old lawyer named Joan Laporta, leading a team of young professionals and executives, mostly in their thirties, becomes front-page news in Britain. Manchester United announces that David Beckham will be sold to Barcelona, for €40m (28m), if Laporta wins and if - a big if given Barça's jaded image - Beckham agrees.

Laporta is known locally as Johan Cruyff's lawyer, and a bitter critic of previous presidents. He's an outsider. Without such a deep crisis, the prudent, practical majority of members would never consider voting for him.

The Beckham bid is a masterstroke of campaigning, concocted by one of Laporta's deputies, Sandro Rosell, a Nike executive whose connections seem to offer an inside track in the transfer market. However unlikely it is that Beckham accepts, Barça is at least in the news. Perhaps the greatest fear of Barça fans is being condemned to obscure, provincial status.

I have switched my attention from the favourite to win, Lluís Bassat, a prominent advertising executive, to Laporta and his team of outsiders. Even before Beckham, their radical, youthful, slick campaign was clearly working. They analyse the football business in Powerpoint presentations - using comparisons with Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and other top clubs. "This isn't rocket science," says Ferran Soriano, their financial guru. But it is a leap of progress as far as the usually more sentimental Barça elections are concerned.

I try to speak to Laporta himself before my route is blocked by dozens of British journalists and television crews pursuing his every utterance on the fate of David Beckham. Instead, I collar Marc Ingla, one of Laporta's deputies, in the foyer of their campaign headquarters on the fashionable Passeig de Gràcia. Ingla is an English-speaking self-made multimillionaire in his late thirties. He and Soriano are business strategists. He has hardly slept for days. The noise of a Beckham-dominated press conference drowns out my explanations. Why is a documentary that will take more than a year to make urgent? Because we need to start filming immediately, and we will need very special access inside the club. Ingla, a shrewd, uncompromising negotiator, agrees to talk about it again, later, after the elections, which is just enough to keep us going.

15 June, 2003 Election day. In stifling heat thousands of members crowd into the smaller of Barça's two stadiums. Laporta and Bassat are neck and neck in the polls. The rival Barcelonan clans gather in the basement of the stadium, sweating profusely, waiting for the outcome. Laporta wins by a landslide. Euphoria breaks out when he arrives at the campaign HQ. "Laporta President! Catalonia Independent!" He appears to offer a cosmopolitan, cheerful version of Catalan nationalism, with just enough gravitas for the conservatives, and daring for the radicals.

22 June, 2003 Moving into the club when the crowds have dispersed is a quieter and more sobering experience; €150m (£100m) of debts have piled up under the previous management and the assets - the value of the players - have sunk. Cutting costs is the priority. The first contracts Laporta signs are for loaning out unwanted players to other clubs, so Barça can save on its salaries. We are filming inside the club. For the moment we hardly talk to the new directors. Laporta and his team seem to have absorbed our explanations. They wave us in, and ignore us.

Barça is a huge institution, with one of the best basketball teams in Europe, as well as handball and other sports. But the top football squad generates by far the biggest costs, and virtually all of the income. The new directors set about analysing the accounts. The management of the top players' salaries, to establish a hierarchy and incentives (and avoid jealousies and ill feeling) is one of the arts on which a successful club is based. It has gone wildly out of control in recent years. Thanks to an eccentric contract, the Dutch striker Patrick Kluivert has a salary which threatens to jump to over €10m (£7m) a year next season. Rosell, as vice-president for sports, and Txiki Begiristain, the new technical director - a former striker in Cruyff's Dream Team - set out to rationalise, and minimise, these anomalies.

One of the election promises is "to put Barcelona back on top in Catalonia, Spain and the world." Two days after the elections, Beckham snubs Barça and signs for their arch rivals, Real Madrid. Laporta reasserts his electoral promise that they will sign at least one media star, as an essential part of their commercial strategy.

Meanwhile, after a series of better-known names appear in the press, Frank Rijkaard, the former Dutch international, arrives as the new coach. Rijkaard is a famous former player, but he hasn't managed a big club before. He is soft-spoken, modest, and young. He is also relatively cheap. He is greeted with reserve by the " entorno", the word Cruyff invented to describe the cloud of commentators, rivals and interested parties who form opinions about the club.

19 July, 2003 Ronaldinho Gaucho, 23 - the only football star in the market to compare with Beckham in terms of media glamour - arrives, by surprise, for negotiations in Barcelona. Only a few days before, Manchester United, with €25m (£17m) in the bank from the sale of Beckham, seemed certain to sign him. But then Sandro Rosell emerged as an arch poker player of the transfer market.

With the bidding at its height. Laporta, Alfons Godall - the vice-president for members and supporters - and Rosell gather in the president's office. "We're stuck in the ground like a tree, waiting for developments in the British Isles," says Rosell. "But no news is good news." He has offered a package of €30m (£21m) to Paris Saint Germain, Ronaldinho's present club. When Ronaldinho arrives in the office, Rosell's friendship with the player is obvious, and almost certainly decisive. The negotiations still drag on. While lawyers and agents read through the clauses, Ronaldinho plays absent-mindedly with a ball. Near midnight, the final clauses are tapped in by the secretary, surrounded by nervous directors. The signing, and the explosion of celebrations afterwards, is a defining moment. The directors secure their first triumph, with a mixture of well-schooled business acumen, uninhibited boyish enthusiasm, and egos hungry enough to enjoy the limelight.

22 July, 2003 The young Turks are lounging around in the red plush and gilded salon that is the boardroom. The 16 new directors (15 men and one woman) are unpaid. In fact they have each had to put up a guarantee of €1.5m (£1m) each for the privilege of sitting here. The statutes of the club state that any board that has not previously managed the club must provide a €25m (£17m) guarantee against possible mismanagement in their four-year term. On these terms, this is a job that can only be understood as a quasi-civic duty, with Barça as a sort of NGO at the service of Catalan pride. Being a Barça director has always had indirect spin-offs in terms of business opportunities and image, but part of the new philosophy is to cut out the selfish use of the club and "dedicate the best years of our lives to Barça". It is also a generational challenge. The shirtsleeves and T-shirts clash with the pomp of their surroundings. The microphones in front of each director's seat go unused. The discussions are far too fast and informal for that type of procedure.

One of the issues up for debate is how to get the previous season's accounts approved. A sort of parliament of members' representatives has to vote on them - and a new deal with the banks is urgent. But having swept into power on a wave of anger against the previous management, they have to tread carefully. "If I vote for these accounts, in some way I'm giving my approval..." says Godall, who, like Laporta, was a fierce critic of the old regime. Laporta rehearses a speech to put the irate members at ease. "The approval of the accounts of last season in no way means the approval of the previous board's management nor supposes that we will not pursue whoever responsible if our legal department advises us to."

24 August, 2003 With all the new signings completed - at a cost of some €45m (£31m) - and the season about to begin, the new team is presented to the members before a friendly match against Boca Juniors in a sort of night-time festival; 90,000 people have come to the Nou Camp, the biggest crowd for this event in many years. We follow Laporta down into the tunnel. Ahead of him the players run out under the spotlight as their names are broadcast into the darkened stadium. Laporta, small, suited and smiling, shows no sign of nerves before his debut.

In the first games of the season the team repeats many of the weaknesses of previous years, a disorganised defence and a worrying ability to blow its chances of scoring. Then Ronaldinho scores his first memorable goal against Seville, at home, and the members are hopeful again. Inside the club the directors are still finding their way around, and brainstorming over how to cut costs and boost income. The old salons are torn out to make way for more functional offices. Some executives and other staff are fired.

16 October, 2003 Meet the Mad Boys. They chant "Laporta you son of a bitch, you won't get rid of us" from their fiefdom behind the goal. The often violent, but officially recognised hardline supporters' group, is furious with the new board. At the beginning of the season Laporta told the press that the Mad Boys had tried to blackmail the club, demanding cash and tickets, in exchange for good behaviour. The board had refused. This was brave, considering many clubs in Spain cave into their violent fans.

When Barça lose at home to Valencia, then to Deportivo de la Coruña, and slip to ninth place in the league table (of 22 teams), the protests get louder. Laporta soon receives death threats painted around the door to his apartment in Barcelona. "My eldest son has seen it and I'm worried," says Laporta. "Apart from being angry, I don't mind saying I'm slightly afraid."

Other members of the board, and their families, receive threats too. A police investigation gets underway. Later we discover the police suspect the Mad Boys are not acting alone.

14 November, 2003 "What do we have to do to turn ourselves into one of the best clubs in the world?" asks Soriano rhetorically in a committee meeting to explain his brainchild, a campaign called "The Big Challenge". He analyses Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Juventus. "In this context we've been thinking: what do we have as a competitive advantage? And we have identified our principal strength as the militancy of our social support."

The idea is to make Barça's huge membership even bigger: 100,000 new members would mean an extra €10m (£7m) a year. The publicity invites Barcelona supporters to imagine the power of a club with a million members.

Elsewhere a group of directors and executives are brainstorming over numbers. Papers cover the table. Top of the agenda is striking a new deal with the banks, to lighten the load of the interest payments and free up funds for new signings. The Madrid Savings Bank is giving them a better offer than the Barcelona Savings Bank, surprisingly. "The Barcelona Bank offer doesn't suit us," says one executive. "It doesn't suit us at all," says the other, "but I'm sure we can squeeze more out of them."

3 December, 2003 At his home in Barcelona, Rosell is watching Barça play away in Malaga. With him are Marta, his wife and Juanjo, his press officer. After the game he is due to go on Catalan television's main football programme to talk about the team's performance. The game starts badly for Barça and gets worse. The players appear completely disorientated. "It couldn't be worse," says Marta, Rosell's wife at 3-0 to Malaga. But it does get worse. Barça lose 5-1. Rosell sinks deeper into the armchair. The directors have joked over the last few weeks about withstanding the pressure, but now he * looks dejected. He is the vice president for sports, and Barça are eighth in the league, with 20 points, 10 behind the leaders, Real Madrid. Juanjo calls his friends on the main sporting papers to find out the headlines.

" El Mundo Deportivo is choosing between 'Shame' and 'Intolerable'. They are not putting 'Ridiculous' because it seems too strong. Sport is putting 'Poor Barça'," he tells Rosell. There are only three days to go before the first big match of the season, against Real Madrid at home. What can be done? Asks the TV interviewer. Sacking Rijkaard is a option raised on the board. But Laporta makes a point of backing him.

6 December, 2003 Real Madrid have not won a league match in Barça's stadium for 20 years, despite winning the European Cup three times in the past six years. The rivalry between the two clubs has a long and sometimes bitter history, dating back to when Real were the favoured team under the Franco dictatorship, and Barça one of the few permitted expressions of Catalan nationalism. Florentino Pérez, the visiting president arrives in Barcelona a few days before the match, and attends to the media with Joan Laporta. A decade ago, the presidents of the two clubs used to have public slanging matches, but Pérez and Laporta are too sophisticated for that. Relations are polished and cordial. Barça aspire to be Real's rival on the pitch and in the offices. At the moment, Real's team and brand are both so strong that it seems Pérez's autocratic style is the successful formula in football, Laporta's power-sharing board, a risky experiment.

In front of 92,524 spectators, Barça lose, 1-2. When Laporta stops to sign autographs from his car after the match, a fan vents his frustration: "Lose to Madrid at home! Sack Rijkaard man! He's completely useless, that bloke. You never should have signed that guy!"

23 December, 2003 Two weeks later the press are losing faith in Laporta's promises. "Are you aware that there are many people who already think we've signed the wrong manager?" asks Emilio Pérez de Rozas, sports editor of El Periódico, interviewing Laporta in his office. "Do you think this superpatience will last forever?" Laporta, with Barça 15 points behind Real Madrid in the league, asks for trust. His ability not to be flustered is almost baffling. But he does raise his voice at the next question, when he is asked if there has been a financial cover-up to protect the previous management. "Some quantities of money have been paid to agents and others to companies and we simply can't know who is behind them. There are things we see are strange, but we don't have proof," he exclaims.

In the boardroom that afternoon the pressure building up from outside leads to a heated debate. "Historically football clubs are run by presidents," says Rosell, "and - why not say so - they are dictatorial. Why? Because it's the best way to work. Sorry to say this, but I get the impression we're behaving like bloody flower children, and they will do us over." Rosell, with his knowledge of football, is worried that this board of businessmen are not being tough enough with their critics. All the credit from the landslide election victory, and the professional can-do style of management they have brought in, has evaporated because the football team are losing.

"Look," says Albert Viçens, vice president for institutional affairs. "Everyone still thinks they'll get rid of us in four months and there'll be a return to the past." Laporta reminds them they have been tough in the past, by bringing down the old regime. But apart from withstanding the pressure, there is not much more they can do.

4 January, 2004 Barça lose 3-0 to Racing de Santander. They are now 18 points behind the league leaders.

12 January, 2004 Going back on an earlier decision not to sign new players in the winter market (half-way through the season when they are scarce and expensive) they sign Edgar Davids, on a transfer from Juventus, for the rest of the season. Rijkaard has demanded it. His salary will cost them €2m (£1.4m). The press are bemused. They wanted a goal scorer, not a 31-year-old midfielder. In contrast, Laporta's optimism bursts out in private, after the press conference. "Sandrusco, aren't you pleased? I really like this guy. I've signed a real man."

The board meeting a few days later, after a much needed league victory, has a punchier, almost arrogant tone. "We have been effective like never before. Rijkaard asked for a player on a Tuesday and on Sunday we had him signed. Let them learn from that!"

Meanwhile Soriano is planning to "re-engineer" the management processes. "It's not a question of fixing bits and pieces but starting from zero," he tells a committee.

The club has a short-term chance of making a killing if they can get through the next round of the King's Cup, because they will meet Real Madrid in the semi finals. They could expect to make €3m (£2m) on selling pay-per-view rights, and another €800,000 (£550,000) on ticket sales.

"Let's pray," says one executive.

29 January, 2004 But they lose, to Zaragoza, before they can reach the semi finals. That night the editor of El Mundo Deportivo, Santi Nolla, in Barcelona, discusses the front page with his news desk. "It's got to be an editorial headline, not just a news headline," he says. "We've got to take a view. It's a failure. I think the headline has to be 'Failure'."

6 February, 2004 The directors head into the Catalan countryside to hold a board meeting in a village. It's part of a drive to promote Barça as a national symbol, not just a city club. The board's image is still at a low point. Laporta has prepared a speech to try and address this. "Some people say that we are proud and arrogant and we think we are incredibly intelligent. We are young, capable, and of a very high level - I think we can be very satisfied in that respect - but we shouldn't behave as people who think they know everything, are arrogant and so on."

The discussion then moves on to how the club should be managed. The unpaid directors have always planned to get paid executives to take over the day-to-day management eventually. Some believe the time has arrived, some think it is too early. Soriano, who is working 12 hours a day, says it would be impossible to hand over his work to Laporta, now. But it is agreed he should step back at the end of the season.

With Davids bringing experience and hard work to the midfield, and Ronaldinho beginning to confirm the promise at the start of the season, the football team is finally improving. They scrape a 0-1 victory in a difficult stadium, in Seville. Laporta's faith in Rijkaard for the first time appears justified.

At the same time the club finalises a deal with a group of banks. "This has enabled us to save Barça's heritage," Laporta announces.

15 February, 2004 By the time Barça beat Atlético de Madrid, in the Nou Camp, they have racked up four victories in a row. The pressure is lifting. But for Laporta it is one of the worst days of the year. He narrowly escapes being beaten up by a group of supporters before the game. The Mad Boys chant threats all through the match. When Laporta bursts into the VIP bar at the end of the game he is almost speechless with rage, "They nearly beat me up, seven blokes came to beat me up, I'm fed up. I don't know if we can stand this."

Later he briefs the board on what happened. "This bloke was shouting and coming towards me, a biggish bloke. Then three on one side three on another, insulting me calling me everything from son of a bitch to I don't know what else. They must have been Mad Boys because they said 'why don't you talk to the Mad Boys?'".

Arrests are made and the details of an extraordinary plot against the new board begin to emerge. According to the police, a former Barça director, along with executives who lost their jobs after the club elections, have been inciting violent fans to intimidate Laporta. Court documents are published in the press. The plotters allegedly planned to scare Laporta out of office, making way for the return of the old regime. The board postpones all discussions on how to deal with the Mad Boys until after the trial.

28 February, 2004 Barça have won their last five matches when they travel to La Coruña, for the return match against Deportivo, one of the strongest teams in the league. Rijkaard's quiet approach has gradually created a relaxed and confident atmosphere among the players. Barça score three goals in a brilliant first half. Deportivo score two in the second half and are on the verge of equalising when the final whistle goes. Laporta calls Rosell from his mobile straight after the game. "Sandrusco are you still alive?"

The winning streak makes commercial planning easier. They begin to plan the summer tour. "At the stage we are in at the moment I think it's best to go to Japan, which is a great market, 100 million inhabitants, rich people, they love football and like Barça. If we work it well, the brand will last as long as you like," explains Ingla, at a private lunch at the club.

Laporta now has ever better grounds for his natural optimism. "Today, I started to count the matches that Madrid or Valencia have to lose for us to win the league. Hey, let's keep our spirits up. Deportivo will start losing. Madrid will start losing, in time..."

21 March, 2004 At home against Real Sociedad, Ronaldinho scores the winning goal from a free kick in the last minutes, and the stadium erupts. Barça are only six points behind Real Madrid.

As usual, the directors and their wives dine and watch the match analysis on the television in the presidential lounge at the ground. This time they stay well past midnight. Before leaving they go out into the presidential box for a last view of the pitch. "You know how much I want to do this," says Laporta, and shouts out: "Barça! Long live Barça and long live Catalonia!" into the vast, empty, half-lit stadium.

25 April, 2004 It's five months since Real Madrid beat Barça at the Nou Camp in Barcelona. Barça arrives for the return match after a spectacular comeback in the league. They're unbeaten in their past 13 matches. This time it's Madrid that have a record to defend. They have not lost to Barça at home for seven years. In a bus led through the city by a police motorcyclist, the directors head for the Bernabeu stadium singing the Barça hymn.

In the first half of the game it looks as though Real Madrid will win easily. Barça's goalkeeper, Victor Valdés, makes several spectacular saves. Madrid score. Then in the second half, Barça equalise, and Madrid suddenly collapse. With only four minutes to go, Ronaldinho, with insulting ease, chips the ball over the defence, and Xavi, a small Catalan midfielder, leaps in the air to help it over the Madrid goalkeeper and into the net. Barça win 1-2.

On the way back two planeloads of Barça followers, players and board members blast out the Barça hymn which is now a little truer than before the match. "We have a name the whole world knows: Barça! Barça! Barça!"

When they arrive in Barcelona, several thousand ecstatic supporters have turned out to meet them. The club's security does not dare let the players out, fearing the crowd will get out of control. But Laporta insists, and eventually leads them out himself, cutting a way through the jubilant mass, to calls of "President! President!"

Through all the celebrations, Laporta and Rosell seem to avoid each other. Less than a month before, they had been inseparable. The press begin to notice that relations between the two friends, who have known each other for 20 years, have cooled.

"We must put an end this bad atmosphere," says Viçens, the eldest of the vice presidents, towards the end of a long discussion among the senior directors inside the club. "We need to show that we are still a team," says Jaume Ferrer, another director. "It's the source of our strength," says Laporta.

Rosell leaves to negotiate a contract. As the season comes to an end, he and Begiristain are busy working on new signings. "I always like to say what I think. I've done it all my life, if I didn't, I'd die," he tells a concerned journalist who calls him up to find out what's happening. "The fact is everyone has to accept the virtues and faults of the others. That's how it is, and there's no problem."

"Power divides," he says to Begiristain, as he hangs up. For the moment the crisis is over.

The finances are turning out better than expected. With three months to the end of the year they've already overtaken last year's income. Income from ticket sales and members is up by a third. This year they have time to plan for the next season. Rosell briefs the board on the sporting strategy: "Most important is that we want to have a squad of 22 players, very simply put, two blokes for each position, but two blokes of the same level, not substitutes." Begiristain reports to Soriano on the budget. They pencil in the possible signings, like the German international, Michael Ballack, estimating the salaries, and hope for savings on unwanted players that can be sold or transferred to other clubs. Patrick Kluivert alone accounts for a tenth of the salaries. Begiristain thinks the squad will be cheaper next season, because the fixed salaries can be reduced. The proportion of incentives, for playing more than 60 per cent of the matches and for winning trophies, has been increased.

8 May, 2004 Barça travel to Vigo. If they win the last two matches, they have a chance of winning the league. Laporta is convinced it is possible. Barça's run of 17 unbeaten league matches is the second longest in the club's history. But in Vigo they finally suffer defeat. Barça finish second to Valencia. Real Madrid drop to fourth. Barça have qualified for the European Champions League next season. Laporta has fulfilled his principal electoral promise, but he is still disappointed.

June 2004 Soriano's campaign, The Big Challenge, has increased the club's huge membership by 10 per cent in six months. Ingla has more than doubled the number of subscribers to Barça TV, the club's relaunched satellite channel; €90m (£62m) has been set aside for new signings over the next three years. Ludovic Giuly arrives from Monaco, Henrik Larsson from Celtic, Deco from Oporto. Five years have passed without Barça winning a single trophy. They must win something this year.

Postscript We had filmed over 300 hours to make a 90-minute documentary. When shown in primetime on Catalan television, and on Canal + in Spain, it was greeted with deep surprise, and immediately repeated. Reviews and ratings have been excellent. The board, who were nervous about its impact only a few days before the broadcasts, have since seen that openness, though risky, has paid off. But most, if not all, of the directors would now be against taking such a risk again.

Barça's excellent run has continued. They are currently the Spanish league leaders; at the time of going to press, seven points ahead of Real Madrid. On 23 February they will meet Chelsea in the Champions League, in the Nou Camp, in a contest between probably the two strongest teams in Europe.

The one black cloud on the horizon has been the continuing dispute between Laporta and Rosell. Originally they only disagreed over who should have the last say on signings,