David Beckham was meant to be Joan Laporta’s first marquee signing as Barcelona president. It is customary for presidential candidates at each of Spain’s big two clubs to big and bold promises during an election cycle and Laporta, never one to shirk publicity, vowed to bring the most recognisable football player on the planet at the time to the Camp Nou.
Of course, Beckham went to Real Madrid in the summer of 2003 instead and Ronaldinho was signed by Barca in his place, with the Brazilian trickster going on to become one of the most significant figures in the Catalan club’s history. He was the catalyst for an era of glittering success at the Camp Nou.
Eighteen years later and history is seemingly repeating itself somewhat with Laporta elected to serve a second term as Barcelona president earlier this month. While the 58-year-old was so bullish in his election promises this time around, he has reportedly identified another marquee signing to signify his ambition with Erling Haaland the player Laporta wants more than any other this summer.
Stylistically, there are stark differences between Haaland and Ronaldinho as players. The former is a physical specimen geared towards putting the ball in the back of the net in whatever way he can, while the latter was a Joga Bonito artist who brought more than just goals to the football pitch.
But just like Ronaldinho, Haaland could lead Barcelona into a new era. If Laporta can find the money to fund a deal, he would be foolish not to build the club’s next great team around a generational talent. Barca might be in over €1 billion of debt, but Haaland’s signing would pay dividends for years and years to come.
The opportunity would surely be an attractive one to the Norwegian. Barcelona are currently at their weakest point for a number of years, but green shoots of progress have started to appear at the Camp Nou. Ronald Koeman has built a team of exciting youngsters, like Pedri, Riqui Puig and Ilaix Moriba, that could still finish the season with a league and cup double. Haaland could be their new figurehead.
Lionel Messi’s future as a Barca player is still unresolved, with the Argentine free to leave this summer, but Haaland’s arrival would prove to him that his personal ambition is being matched by the Camp Nou club. Messi wouldn’t be expected to win games all on his own anymore. With European football’s most devastating young goalscorer at his side, the 33-year-old might be able to age more gracefully.
Barcelona have made a number of costly mistakes when spending big on marquee targets in recent years. Over £275m was splurged on Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele with neither guaranteed first team starters. Both players were signed without a clear plan in place of how to use them. They didn’t fit into Barca’s team.
Things would be different for Haaland, though. Koeman has forged a strong team unit this season, but there is still room for a true number nine following the departure of Luis Suarez last summer. Antoine Griezmann, Martin Braithwaite and even Dembele have been used through the middle, Barca lack a natural penalty box operator and someone to lead the line.
Ronaldinho’s arrival at Barcelona in 2003 raised the standards of everyone around him. After years of mediocrity at the Camp Nou, the Brazilian became the face of a new dominant force at the top of the Spanish and European game. The parallels could be striking should Haaland answer Laporta’s call this summer. He could be the Barca president’s new Ronaldinho.