Ty­coon helped trans­form Barcelona into a pow­er­house of world foot­ball

Taranaki Daily News - - Obituaries -

Josep Lluis Nunez, who has died aged 87, was a Span­ish con­struc­tion mag­nate who helped grow FC Barcelona into one of the world’s most valu­able sports teams, pre­sid­ing over the ac­qui­si­tion of some of foot­ball’s finest play­ers.

He was Barcelona’s long­est-serv­ing pres­i­dent, hold­ing the of­fice from 1978 to 2000. He was in­ves­ti­gated for cor­rup­tion soon af­ter leav­ing the team, and in 2011 was sen­tenced to six years in prison – later re­duced to 26 months – for at­tempt­ing to bribe tax in­spec­tors in­ves­ti­gat­ing his con­struc­tion busi­ness.

With the motto ‘‘More than a club’’, Barca, as it is com­monly known, has long cul­ti­vated its image as an em­bod­i­ment of demo­cratic ideals and

Cata­lan pride. Sim­i­lar to grid­iron’s Green Bay Pack­ers, the team is es­sen­tially owned by its fans – a group of more than 144,000 ‘‘mem­bers’’ who elect the team’s pres­i­dent and, at many home games, chant in favour of Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence at the 17 minute 14 sec­ond mark, in a sym­bolic nod to the year in which Philip V of Spain cap­tured Barcelona.

Nunez was known as a busi­ness­man, not a sports fig­ure, be­fore Barca’s mem­bers elected him pres­i­dent in 1978, af­ter a tu­mul­tuous cam­paign in which he wooed jour­nal­ists over lav­ish seafood din­ners, bought an ad­dress list of all the team’s vot­ing mem­bers, and tarred his op­po­nents with pro­pa­ganda about their per­sonal lives.

He went on to usher in a new, mod­ern era at FC Barcelona. A state­ment from Barca said he ‘‘to­tally trans­formed the club. In his first sea­son, 1978-79, the bud­get was 817 mil­lion pe­se­tas, and by 1999-2000 it was a mas­sive

17,594m’’. The growth was fu­elled by both an ex­pan­sion of the team’s fa­cil­i­ties and in­creas­ing suc­cess on the pitch.

Un­der Nunez, the team fea­tured world­class play­ers such as Ron­aldo and Diego Maradona, and man­agers in­clud­ing Dutch le­gend Jo­han Cruyff, who as­sem­bled a for­mi­da­ble squad known as the ‘‘Dream Team’’ in the early 1990s. It also won a spate of cham­pi­onships, in­clud­ing its first Eu­ro­pean Cup (now known as the Cham­pi­ons League) in 1992; four ti­tles in the now-de­funct Eu­ro­pean Cup Win­ners’ Cup; seven ti­tles in La Liga, the Span­ish league; and six Span­ish cup com­pe­ti­tions.

The club ex­panded its home sta­dium, Camp Nou, to a stag­ger­ing ca­pac­ity of 120,000; built a sec­ond, smaller sta­dium nearby; and in

1979, at Cruyff’s sug­ges­tion, set up La Ma­sia, the fabled youth academy that trained play­ers such as An­dres Ini­esta, Xavi Her­nan­dez and Lionel Messi, who to­gether be­came known as Barcelona’s holy trin­ity.

In Oc­to­ber this year, FC Barcelona an­nounced that it had sur­passed the US$1 bil­lion mark in rev­enue, a first for a sports team. Forbes val­ued it at US$4.06

He was re­ported to have got rid of Dutch mid­fielder Jo­han Neeskens in 1979 as a re­sult of a bath­room dis­pute. Neeskens, it was said, had re­fused to pass Nunez a roll of toi­let pa­per un­der the stall.

bil­lion ear­lier this year, rank­ing it the fourth most-valu­able team in the world, be­hind only the Dal­las Cow­boys, Manch­ester United and archri­vals Real Madrid.

While Nunez presided over the growth of a fi­nan­cial pow­er­house, his reign was marked by strife with play­ers, man­agers and fans, for whom ex­pec­ta­tions were noth­ing less than a Span­ish league ti­tle each sea­son, and a Cham­pi­ons League crown to boot.

Man­agers came and went, and Nunez was of­ten crit­i­cised for trans­fer­ring ath­letes who, in his eyes, de­manded too much money. (Maradona was forced out af­ter two years; Ron­aldo lasted just one sea­son.) Af­ter an un­ex­pected Eu­ro­pean Cup fi­nal loss in 1986, a large fac­tion of his team re­belled and was dis­missed, in an event that be­come known as the Hes­pe­ria Mutiny, for the Barcelona ho­tel in which the play­ers an­nounced their re­volt. Nunez, jour­nal­ist Phil Ball wrote in Morbo:

The Story of Span­ish Foot­ball, ‘‘sur­vived play­ers’ re­bel­lions, dozens of votes of no­con­fi­dence, petu­lant star play­ers and Cruyff’s pe­ri­odic at­tempts to dis­lodge him from his throne’’ be­fore fi­nally re­tir­ing in 2000, two years be­fore the end of his term as pres­i­dent. At the team’s last game that sea­son, thou­sands of fans had waved white hand­ker­chiefs his way, de­mand­ing his res­ig­na­tion.

Josep Lluis Nunez was born in Barakaldo, in the Basque Coun­try just out­side Bil­bao, and went on to build Nunez i Navarro, widely re­garded as the largest con­struc­tion com­pany in Cat­alo­nia, be­fore be­ing elected pres­i­dent of FC Barcelona.

Sur­vivors in­clude his wife, Maria Lluisa Navarro; and two sons, Josep Maria Nunez and Josep Lluis Nunez Jr, a fel­low FC Barcelona of­fi­cial who was also con­victed on bribery charges.

While Nunez’s de­ci­sion to re­tain or trans­fer play­ers typ­i­cally seemed to hinge on money, more per­sonal fac­tors were said to play a role as well. In one his­tory of the team,

Barca Inedit, he was re­ported to have got rid of Dutch mid­fielder Jo­han Neeskens in 1979 as a re­sult of a bath­room dis­pute.

Neeskens, the book’s au­thors re­ported, had re­fused to pass Nunez a roll of toi­let pa­per un­der the stall. –

GETTY

Josep Lluis Nunez was pres­i­dent of FC Barcelona when they won their first Eu­ro­pean Cup un­der Jo­han Cruyff, left, who was hired as man­ager by Nunez.

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