This week, FIFA announced that it had banned Barcelona from signing any players for the next two transfer windows for breaking the rules on signing international players under the age of 18. The Catalans have also been fined 450,000 Swiss francs (around €370,000) but have, perhaps unsurpringly, confirmed they will be appealing the ban.
The news stunned football fans, but more importantly to Barça, it shocked the club and their “more than a club” image has no doubt been somewhat damaged by this.
In my experience of going to the Catalan capital over the years, it seems that Sandro Rosell is something of a bad guy. Or at least he is somebody who the fans can blame. Rosell was President of the club from summer 2010 until last January when he resigned following investigations of alleged misappropriation of funds over the signing of the Brazilian player Neymar.
It was also Rosell who came to the agreement with Qatar Airways to allow the airline’s logo be carried on the Barça jersey in a deal worth around €30m per year. It was the first time a commerical logo has been allowed on the club’s shirt in their history. Previously Barça paid UNICEF to carry their logo. It strengthened their “more than a club” image and suggested that they were morally superior to their rivals – especially Real Madrid. The Qatari deal put an end to that in the eyes of many.
“His obsession is money,” one fan told me at the Camp Nou last January, speaking about Rosell mere days before his resignation. “All he cares about it money. I have no pride with Qatar Airways on the blaugrana (Barcelona’s traditional colours)”. Many people, I must admit, seem to share that opinion.
The Madrid-based press are, naturally, very speedy in denouncing the club’s negative actions – such as that of the Neymar deal. While much, if not, all of the Catalan press, and indeed Spain’s Sports Minister Miguel Cardenal, have all stated that Barça are hardly as reprehensible a club as they are being portrayed by certain sections of the media.
Unlike many other clubs, FC Barcelona is owned by it’s 160,000 members. And their opinion matters. Current President and former engineer Josep Maria Bartomeu (who was previously Sandro Rosell’s second in command) could see his presidency come to an end quicker than he would like.
The series of off-field events are not ideal for the club’s reputation or their image. The transfer ban could make like incredibly hard on Barcelona. With Victor Valdés and captain Carles Puyol leaving at the end of the season, they won’t be able to find suitable replacements for the two World Cup-winning stars. The off-field problems are becoming on-field problems and that, as any Barcelona fan will tell you, is the biggest problem of all.
Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)