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This Monday former FC Barcelona president Josep Lluís Núñez (1931-2018) passed away at the age of 87. FC Barcelona would like to express its sadness at the passing of the man who president of the Club between 1978 and 2000 and who has left us today Monday at the age of 87. FC Barcelona pass on their condolences to the family at this difficult time as well as those of the members, supporters’ club members and fans of the Club as well as those of the world of football. May he rest in peace.
Josep Lluís Núñez i Clemente was the longest serving president in club history, a remarkable 22 years, from 1978 to 2000. This was a decisive period in the club’s history, with huge changes to the way football operated around the world, particularly in terms of finance and media attention.
Born in 1931 in the Basque town of Barakaldo, he moved to Barcelona at a young age. He made his earliest impact on the club in the first democratic presidential elections after the end of the Franco dictatorship, in May 1978. Although he was a famously successful businessman, he was unknown to the world of sport, but his campaign slogan of “Per un Barça triomfant” (For a triumphant Barça) managed to gather enough support among the members to win by a narrow margin, gaining 10,352 votes to edge out the 9,537 for Ferran Ariño and the 6,202 for Nicolau Casaus, two candidates that were much better known for their associations to the club.
In such a long presidency, there were naturally highs and lows. But he was always strongly concerned about making the club into a financial powerhouse that could gain assets, while also being a fervent promoter of the supporters club movement (with a rise from 152 penyes in 1978 to 1,450 in 2000), in the belief that the financial and social aspects would in turn make the club more competitive on the pitch.
Núñez totally transformed the club. In his first season, 1978-79, the budget was 817 million pesetas, and by 1999-2000 it was a massive 17,594 million.
In awareness that he had not won the election by a landslide, president Núñez included Nicolau Casaus and other members of his candidacy in his board, including Josep Mussons, who would be important members of his team and acted as vice-presidents throughout his mandate.
His first major success on the field was the Cup Winners’ Cup in Basel (1979), the first time that the team had been followed by a huge travelling support, with 30,000 fans making the journey to Switzerland. The trophy was won again in 1982, the same year that Diego Maradona arrived as a superstar signing.
But Nuñéz would not enjoy a league title until the 1984-85 season. The club was not winning too many football trophies, but in other areas it was developing strongly, including the creation of La Masia as a residence for young athletes, the expansion of the Camp Nou for the 1982 World Cup, the construction of the Miniestadi, the inauguration of the Museum in 1984, and the huge increase in the membership, which broke 100,000 for the first time in 1982.
Other sports did bring success. The basketball team won its first continental trophy in 1985 and the roller hockey team was European champion every year from 1978 to 1985; not to mention the amazing handball team of the era.
But his first presidency ended on the saddest of notes. On 7 May 1986, Barça were stunned in the European Cup Final in Seville by Steaua Bucharest. The aftermath of that defeat included the notorious ‘Hesperia Mutiny’ among the players in 1988 and the sometimes very personal conflict between Nuñéz and star player Bernd Schuster.
After standing unchallenged to earn his second presidential mandate, the third election in April 1989 was a tough campaign for Nuñéz. But he eventually defeated Sixte Cambra fairly convincingly, with 58.2% of the votes.
Josep Lluís Núñez reacted by bringing in Johan Cruyff as first team manager. The decision brought spectacular results. Barça won four consecutive leagues (1990-1994) and its first European Cup at Wembley in 1992.
The Dream team era continued through to 1996, and was a strong period for Nuñez, despite the major setback of losing the European Cup in Athens in 1994 to the other great team of the early nineties, AC Milan. Barça’s extraordinarily high hopes were dashed by a 4-0 defeat, marking the end of an era. Johan Cruyff was shown the door in 1996, a decision that Nuñéz described as a difficult one, for the successes of 1988-1996 had been all about the tandem between the president forging a solid institution and the coach guiding the team into its greatest period ever.
Cruyff’s departure broke down that wonderful team, and led to a period of divide between supporters of the president and those who sided with the ousted coach. President Núñez managed to get the team back on track with Robson and Van Gaal bringing new success on the pitch, and the 1997 elections showed that the members were still behind him as he defeated Àngel Fernández by a landslide.
The opposition were a minority, but they were persistent, even filing an unsuccessful vote of no confidence in 1998. It was precisely in November 1998 that the president set in motion plans for the extraordinary celebrations of centenary of the club, which showcased all the good that had been achieved in his time in charge.
Reflecting his focus on promoting other sports, that centenary year saw all the professional teams win their respective leagues. But these were long and difficult times, and after Barça lost the Champions League semi-finals he resigned in May 2000, emphasising how he had left the club on solid footing, with a financially valuable squad, strong assets and the support of the penyes.
His presidency was not only the longest in club history, but also one of the most intense. His dedication was unquestionable, and the 175 titles won by the professional teams (30 for football, 36 basketball, 65 handball and 44 roller hockey) were simply staggering.
After his resignation, Josep Lluís Núñez stepped aside from club life, and only made very occasional public appearances, such as the tribute that all living presidents gave to Johan Cruyff following his death in 2016, and the event celebrating the 25th anniversary of the European Cup victory at Wembley in 1992.
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