Josep Lluís Nuñez: Barca’s unsung Hero


Barcelona announced on her twitter handle that former President, Josep Lluís Nuñez Clemente had passed away on Monday,Dec 3. He was aged 87 (1931-2018) and was president for a stunning 22 years( 1st July 1978 – 23rd July, 2000) where he oversaw the transformation of the club to what it is today. New generation barca fans, expectedly, know little or nothing about him, his legacy and his differences with another barca legend – Johan cryuff. This article aims to explain it all – sit back and enjoy.

Nunez took over a barca team that was a victim of the vicious reign of the Franco dictatorship. Recall that Barcelona president, Josep Sunyol, was brutally murdered during the war in 1936, not forgetting the about 25000 Catalans who were killed even after a cease fire was already agreed. Barcelona was the major symbol of Catalonia and Franco fought tooth and nail to neutralize whatever the club stood for and whatever influence it had on the catalan people. It was a very difficult time for the club as they were seen as the face of the anti – Franco struggle and you know what that means. Franco adopted Real Madrid as his club and as a tool to destroy barca. He oversaw the “forceful capture” of Alfredo di Stefano from Barca even after he had played couple of friendlies for the club. Barcelona president at that time, Marti Carretó, was reportedly threatened with tax fines on his textile company if he didn’t let Di Stefano go. Di-Stefano went on to lead Madrid to win five successive European titles. Enough of history, but the long and short of it was that Barcelona as a sporting club was amputated during the Franco reign.


Franco died in 1975, but in the latter period of his reign, Barcelona made significant changes to regain their Catalanism especially under the presidency of Agustí Montal Costa which began in 1969.
“People said I was going to a fascist country – I was born shortly after the war though and was taught not to just accept anything. Barcelona wasn’t at the same level as Madrid football-wise but it was a challenge to play for a Catalan club. Barcelona was more than a club. “ – Johan Cryuff, 1973.
In 1973, Barcelona was finally able to sign a world class player: Johan Cryuff. He was regarded as the best player at that time and had reportedly grown unhappy at Ajax after he was denied the captaincy position. Cryuff grew up the ladder and became the biggest and the most important player in the team, he won the European player of the year in 1974. With Cryuff, Barca began to regain its rightful place in European football as they won the laliga in the 1973/74 season after humiliating Madrid 5-0 at the Bernabeau even in Franco’s reign. On the field, the club looked like they had overcome the tortures they underwent under franco, but off the field, the club was a mess. To worsen the case, Cryuff departed and the club was left in disarray and the financial misappropriations of the club were now in the fore burner.

Josep Lluís Nuñez: The Saviour

There was a desperate need for a new leadership at barca. A leadership to finally move them off the franco era and take them to the promse land. This is where Josep Lluís Nuñez came into the barca picture Several socio-political changes occurred in the club in 1978 with socios being allowed to participate, by voting, in the presidential elections being the biggest of them all. It was sort of a revolution and a mammoth one at that. Before the political revolution, only delegates were allowed to decide who becomes president. Josep Lluís Nuñez, before the election period, was in no way connected to the club. He was famous for his exploits in business especially with his construction and hotel companies. To cut the long story short, Josep Lluís Nuñez – who had no previous connection to the club – won the election. Credible reports say he used his financial might to bully stronger candidates into stepping down and to buy the public support of the fans’ favourie: Johan Cryuff and Carles Rexach. Nunez rode his campaign on the narrative that he had no political interests and hence he would not be obliged to favour any group or family. After the elections, his opponents opined that he used his financial might to buy the presidency. Nunez was smart enough to make Carles Rexach, a barelona man in and out, his vice president. Josep Lluís Nuñez objectives were clear; he wanted to make Barcelona a financially buoyant entity and a world class club. What else do you expect from a business tycoon? He didn’t have it easy in his early years, expectedly, especially with the press. Nuñez set out to curb the financial mismanagement of the club that had made it almost debt ridden – he wanted to make the club financially sustainable and he wasn’t taking any prisoners in his pursuit
Nuñez wanted barca, instead of spending large sums on wages and transfer fees, to produce their own players and this essentially led to the establishment of La masia. During his reign, Barcelona experienced mammoth economic growth and followership. According to Wikipedia, the club’s four professional teams amassed 176 trophies – 30 in football, 36 in basketball, 65 in handball and 45 in roller hockey. Also, membership increased from 77,905 to 106,000, leading to the increase in the capacity of the Camp Nou stadium. His strict salary structure made him have issues with many barca superstars like Maradona, Ronaldo and Figo and inadvertently led to their departures. Like him or not, he achieved his aim of making Barcelona one of the biggest sporting clubs in the world.

Hesperia Mutiny

This is one of the lowest points in barca’s history and definitely the lowest in Nuñez’s reign. This was one of the effects of his strict financial policies; his players ganged up against him and addressed a press conference in a hotel named Hesperia on April 28, 1998.
Barcelona players came out to publicly criticize Nuñez and asked him to resign. They claimed he didn’t love the club and was acting for his gain alone meanwhile the true reason for the outburst was because Nuñez had insisted that all players erring in their tax dues must settle themselves on their own.
Election was coming in June and Nuñez needed to act fast. He played the master stroke and appointed Cryuff Manager in May 4, 1998. Even though people claim it was the only choice he had, I feel it was brave to have appointed Cryuff who was clearly heady and highly opinionated. Cryuff lived up to his reputation as various reports claimed he barred the president from visiting the dressing room and interfering in team matters. He also sold off many big names and brought in new faces like Eusebio and Txiki Begiristain. The rest is history, Cryuff, asides that he won 11 trophies, including barca’s first European trophy, in 8 years, went ahead to revolutionaliize barca and football at large.

Nuñez and Cryuff feud

After successive poor seasons, Nunez sacked Cryuff. Barcelona then hired Sir Bobby Robson as a transitional coach while they waited for Louis Van Gaal. To be fair to Nunez, Cryuff was almost a rebel and didn’t shy away from picking battles with his boss. When results didn’t go his way anymore, it was no surprise he was sacked. Cryuff was a pain in the ass to any employer. He either had his way or he’s out – there are no middle grounds with him. Cryuff , expectedly, wasn’t going to let it go and he plotted the victory of Johan Laporta who was Nunez’s major rival.
In his latter years, Josep Lluís Nunez was sentenced to two years and two months in jail for his convictions associated with embezzlement of close to €13 million in public funds – he didn’t go to jail because of his age. He was particularly convicted of buying off the tax inspectors so that they would be oblivious to the allowances he was listing on his tax returns.
He was no means a saint just like Cyruff or any other revered barca legend but his input in making barca what it is today can never be washed away.

Rest in peace, Josep Lluís Nuñez.