Less than the old Barca

“We do not believe in government through the voting booth. The Spanish national will [and] was never freely expressed through the ballot box. Spain has no foolish dreams.”

These words from Francisco Franco show what would come for Spain in the next 40 years or so. The totalitarian, authoritarian regime that Franco headed for those 4 decades supported the fascist regimes in the late 30s and early 40s, the lack of involvement in the War only being because of British bribes via MI6, totalling £200m. Franco’s diametric opposition to anything Communism meant that when the West waged their Cold War vs the Soviet Union, he was let back in amongst the Western leaders and it brought Spain closer to those, softening the image that had been perpetuated during Franco’s leadership.

The staunchness of his right wing ideas was not restricted to those outside of his country. The regions of Galicia, Basque and Catalonia were restricted from culturally, linguistically and politically expression. The scars of this oppression are still felt today, particularly in Catalonia. These scars are the reason why there has been a big movement for Catalonia to declare independence, as they look to be recognised as a nation itself, having complete autonomy as they last did in 1714. FC Barcelona, as a football club, is seen as a representative of Catalonia, established on Catalan values by Joan Gamper, the founder of the club. The motto ‘Mes que un club’, more than a club in English, is a reference to the club’s partaking and support in affairs outside of football, Catalonian state independence being one. Barcelona’s representation there comes in the way of area – progressive, liberal and left wing. Their commitment to their own brand of attractive football introduced by Johan Cruyff and self-sufficiency through educating and promoting youth players through the famed La Masia are just some footballing examples of what the Catalan do to separate themselves. It comes in conflict with the way their arch rivals, Real Madrid, operate, willing to embrace their wealth and committed to winning at all costs, to an extent.

The leaving of Neymar Jr to Paris Saint Germain has shattered the world-record transfer fee in football, going for a whopping £196m. People are afraid of the seismic change that it could bring to the transfer market, with clubs using this transfer as a barometer to measure their own players against, driving up the prices of the transfer now and forever. Really, Neymar’s change from the colours of Blaugrana to the red & blue of Paris and the saga precursory touched on several issues pertaining to Barcelona and the effect it could have on the club should really be the true story within the football media.

Neymar had been mooted at leaving for a long time before he eventually left for Barcelona back in 2013. He was touted from a young age to break onto the world stage and establish himself as one of the best players in the world while he was still in the middle of adolescence. The advent of the ‘YouTube footballer’ age allowed him to display the Ginga, the distinct individual playing style exclusive to Brazil, the most that the world had seen since Ronaldinho in his pomp. It only seemed right that he follow in the footsteps of the biggest proponent of Ginga and to a club who preached attractive short passing football, Tiki Taka, in a way that was similar to Tabelinha, the quick short passing game that helped Brazil dominate world football with Pele. The €53 million fee that was paid to Santos was divided up between 4 parties, as to keep Neymar for as long as Santos did, they had to sell percentages of him to different entities so they could contribute to his increasing wages. Circa 80% of this fee went to N&N, a company headed by Neymar’s father. The problem was that the actual fee was €86m, which was hidden by the then Barcelona president, Sandro Rosell. When a club has been representing themselves under the appearance of being above the debauchery that others engage in, namely their neighbours with the state backing and interference that Real Madrid have been accused of in the past, for this to happen was an embarrassment to that brand. Rosell’s resigned in January 2014 after being charged for the transfer irregularities, which he is now serving a custodial sentence for after being found guilty this year. In getting the Brazilian starlet, the club partly distanced themselves from the values that they were supposed to hold dear and uphold.

Truly, it began when Joan Laporta left his post as president in 2010. Barcelona had spent big under his regime but as Soriano eloquently put, they did so with ‘a responsibility to society beyond the sports arena”. The emblazoning of UNICEF on the front of the shirt, the first sponsor that Barcelona had had in its history, paying the charity €7 million a year was an example of the upholding of the Barcelona values. The 7 years of Laporta were everything that Barcelona stakeholders wanted from their club. Sandro Rosell and Jose Bartomeu have tried to push Barcelona into competing on the same playing field as the others, as the Laporta had left the club with mounting debt due to the idealistic way of running the club, as he pumped money into La Masia. The ‘Dream Factory’, he called it, was so that Barcelona would not need to spend the money the other teams do by importing the best talent but rather pick the best from the best academy. The push towards self-sufficiency in taking care of those who you had grown and taken care of for years, to get rewarded on the pitch with their talent was supposed to be a money saving exercise and at its apex, with Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Carlos Puyol, Sergio Busquets, Pedro and Gerard Pique, it was. However, the stream ran dry and the club began focusing on commercialisation of the club began and has not looked back since. The signing of Neymar and Luis Suarez, who are pedalled in the MSN partnership with Messi for moneymaking exercises, the Qatar sponsorship and the attachment of the brand to things like wine are just testament to that. The fact Neymar was contractually obliged to complete the American pre-season tour before he could set about moving to Paris is an example of how much the financial side of the game now means to Barcelona.

Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the whole Neymar saga is the opposition to the transfer by the Spanish League association alongside Barcelona. It not only has sheds light on the efficacy of FFP but also on what happens to Barcelona if Catalonia decides to vote for independence. Financial Fair Play was a guard against clubs spending beyond their means and teams with wealthy backers distorting the market with heavy investment via ‘financial doping’. However, the intent of FFP was to stop the Leeds and Portsmouth situations more so as the level of losses in football at its inception was at a point where many clubs could have gone under. The additional more malicious intent was the maintaining of the elite status quo so that the bigger clubs could stop being challenged by clubs rising through bank rolled owners. UEFA have sought in correcting that by increasing the margin of loss allowed and allowing heavy investment to be done but all in the pursuit of breaking even with a certain period.

Manchester City and PSG have been allowed this, while Milan are currently in the process of presenting that plan to UEFA concerning their summer 2017 spend. FFP, therefore, cannot stop individual transfers and have to wait for the financial reports of the teams to ascertain if they have fallen foul of FFP and being punished accordingly. With one punishment already, PSG would be punished heavily rather than the relative insignificant punishment with the reduction of CL squad space and fine. Javier Tebas, the president of the Spanish League association, aggressive opposition to the payment of the buyout clause was an example of the aforementioned elite being against the financially doped, state backed clubs. His aggressive stance here however weakens his position on another issue however. Tebas has already said that if this were to happen then Barcelona would no longer allowed to operate in the La Liga, despite the facts Andorran teams are allowed to play within the Spanish league system. This was supported by the Spanish Sports Minister, Miguel Cardenal, questioning Barcelona’s ability to sustain its elite club status without being in the La Liga. Yet, when Barcelona was threatened with losing a key player, Tebas did not hesitate in stepping in, trying to halt the move. This was a recognition that Barcelona being hurt was the La Liga being hurt, as one-half of the big two in the country. These flies in the face of his claims to kick out the Catalan club, who would have other options, were it to come to this situation. However, that option would be admission into Ligue 1, Catalonia bordering France. Rosell said something to this effect in 2014 but with the animosity that has been built over the Neymar deal, and the Tebas’s clear admission of Barcelona’s importance, it is unlikely that would now happen.

Regarding Catalonian independence as a whole, Rosell refused to give his opinion, as does his former vice president and incumbent president, Bartomeu. Laporta openly supported independence, even going into the political movement for two years after he left the club. This in small shows the difference between what Barcelona was and is now. Soriano’s quote of the club being more than just a football club now rings hollow as the values that made them different were chipped away under this administration. Even during the treble winning season of 2014/15, there was still discontent amongst the crowd about the direction of Barcelona being too far removed from Joan Gamper’s creating the club to represent the Catalan traditions. Perhaps the sale of Neymar could represent a chance for the club to recognise this and become something the fans and previous presidents have tried to protect. It might be a foolish dream to return the essence of Barcelona in this current climate of football but if they are more than just a club, then it could a necessary foolish dream.

Photo Credit: Goal

By: Elijah Sofoluke