Gareth Lowe: Are Barcelona really 'more than a club'?

28 March 2011 03:09
Recently, more than ever before, Barcelona's claims of being "more than a club" have come under close scrutiny. A club that for over 100 years bore no sponsor on the front of their shirt, a club that donates unprecedented amounts to charity and a club that acts as a standard bearer for the region of Catalonia.

The one club who have more grounds on which to dispute those claims than anybody else, is Arsenal. If anybody has ever been given a reason to dislike Barcelona, it's the north Londoners.

Their public pursuit of captain Cesc Fabregas ruffled the feathers of the Gunners, before consecutive Champions League exits at the Camp Nou, marred with controversy despite clear Catalan dominance in both second-legs, have added to the suffering that Barcelona have caused Arsenal in recent years.

Even Johan Cruyff, legendary former player and manager of Barcelona, has found himself complaining about the running of the club in recent history. The Dutch icon has spoken of his distaste for Los Cules' world record shirt sponsorship deal, signed with the Qatar Foundation for a staggering €25m per season. It is the first deal of its kind signed by the side that nurtured Cruyff's career both as a player and a manager, and one that has found Barcelona under heavy criticism from both fans and critics alike.

Their lack of shirt sponsorship has for some time been regarded as the biggest factor separating them from the pack, but massive debts have forced change. The men at the helm of the club still insist that the deal is good for fans, claiming that the sheer value of the deal will substantiate their infamous motto. Others disagree however, claiming that the club has 'sold out' on its principles.

Criticisms of the side that has been hailed one of the greatest in the history of the sport have stretched so far as claims of referee favouritism, even bribing. Such arguments seem to hold very little weight, and are regarded by the Blaugrana, and many corners of the media, as an attempt to stir up their camp.

As malicious as such accusations may appear, they barely scratch the surface on Barcelona's latest controversy. Parts of the Spanish media recently brought forward 'evidence' that the Camp Nou giants have used illegal substances to maintain their high level of achievement. Those accusations were predictably rubbished by the club and a vast number of reputable figures in football, none more significant than Florentino Perez, president of eternal rivals Real Madrid.

Widely accepted as a personal attack by those that wish the club harm, shortly after the 'evidence' came to light, UEFA drug-testers conducted a possibly not-so random drug test at the club's training grounds. In essence, it would certainly be fair to say that Barcelona are no saints, and the jury is certainly out on their ability and willingness to substantiate their infamous motto.

However, it would certainly also be fair to suggest that they are about as close as you can get in today's game. They are far from the only club in debt, they are certainly not the only side to complain about referees and they repeatedly find themselves on the receiving end of personal attacks with little or no facts attached.

Being more than a club in this day and age appears a difficult task, but their UNICEF links along with the success of the FC Barcelona Foundation, push them just barely above other clubs competing at the same level. There is work to be done for sure, but there are few healthier, more ethical clubs around today.

Gareth Lowe

Source: DSG