The UEFA Champions League final on May 28th at Wembley will be a repeat of Rome 2009. Barcelona will start as overwhelming favourites against one of their traditional English whipping boys. They are five points ahead of Real Madrid with a game in hand in the non-existential race for the La Liga title. A double winning season will make it 10 titles in the 3 years in charge for Josep Guardiola, their homegrown manager. Starting in the 2011-2012 will be a $180 million 5 year shirt sponsorship deal with the Qatar foundation. They negotiate individual TV contracts for each season along with Real Madrid totalling nearly $160 million a year each, around half the pot for the other 18 clubs in the Spanish Primera division. Admired universally in charitable circles for their $2 million a year donation to UNICEF and also by donning their logos on their shirts. With their collection of stars, the place to be morally, financially and on footballing merit for any world class footballer is Catalunya.( no offence to Espanyol). But there remains the question. Are they really worth their place among the footballing celestials?
‘Mes que un club’ ( English: more than a club) says the club motto, defining their tradition of bringing world class footballers to the first team from their acclaimed youth base at La Masia. The critics argue that this current team of homegrown players, who have starred for Spain and Barcelona winning them many titles, is a golden generation of talent that will seldom be produced again. They have a case. While Messi, Iniesta and Xavi drive the team to multiple European and World titles, the important goals have come from David Villa( a $40 million signing from Valencia in 2010) and Samuel Eto’o( a $20 million addition from Real Madrid in 2004, who currently plays for Inter Milan). In addition to these strikers, their defence is well shored up by Eric Abidal, Dani Alves and was a couple of years back by Giovanni van brockhorst and Rafael Marquez all foreign signings. While it is admirable that La Masia has produced such a quantity of amazing footballers, they have been supplemented by equally good big money signings. It is difficult for anybody to scrutinize such an acclaimed system because even in footballing circles it is misconceived as easy to replicate, just ask Chelsea and Napoli.
Coming to performances, there have been many memorable ones in the last 3 years by this particular Barcelona side. Claims have been made for Messi to supplant Pele and Maradona as the World’s Greatest Footballer Ever. Although that claim has gained considerable momentum, the team itself has been supported by a large number of unquestionably woeful refereeing. Be it the knockout games against Chelsea in 2005 where Didier Drogba was sent off in bizarre circumstances or 2006 where Lionel Messi bettered Al Pacino to get Asier Del Horno sent off in the first leg to get Chelsea knocked out eventually. But the most blatant partisanship from the higher echelons of UEFA towards Barcelona came in two instances. The first being the 2009 Champions league semifinal against Chelsea where the better part of 4 penalty decisions went in favour of Barcelona only for them to win the tie on away goals and then the semifinal in 2010 against Inter Milan where they played against 10 men in the second leg for a considerable amount of time and still lost 3-2 on aggregate. Although the play-acting accusations of them this year in the Champions league can be levelled at Real Madrid also. Another evident pattern that emerges is that all these refereeing decisions and the big games have come in the Champions League. Barcelona have had a relatively easy ride motoring along to two La Liga titles in the last two years and on the verge of their three-peat. The bottom line is that their challenge has come from English sides and Inter Milan in the Champions League. Even under unbiased circumstances, it would be a humungous task for any top level European side to beat Barcelona. Hence, it is unfathomable that Barcelona have resorted to such unrequisited conning and bullying of referees.
In terms of revenue, Barcelona are well on course to overtake Real Madrid in the next five years and already have become the most marketable. With the ill-designed UEFA fair play rules kicking it at the start of the 2012-2013 season where all clubs must only use money generated by the club itself, Barcelona have shed their traditional tags of no shirt sponsorships to budge to the Qatar Foundation giving them an extra $40 million a year. The very nature of such a deal is questionable. But in light of FIFA giving Qatar the 2022 World Cup, Barcelona don’t seem as blasphemous. Qatar is a country where fans are barred from consuming alcohol, publicly display signs of affection forbidden and a land where homosexuals cannot reveal themselves. Hence, sponsorships or any sort of association with them, from a club that condones similar behaviour between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gerard Pique, is condemnable. Barcelona have also caused incredible fissures among the relationships of Spanish clubs. To have them taken to court where they squabble over a TV deal that would give 18 other spanish clubs (the two being Barcelona and Real Madrid) a paltry 34 percent of revenue does not reflect well on a club that markets itself as the best on the planet.
Finally, the most damning indictment of Barcelona is their transfer strategy. Be it Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas or even Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Barcelona have constantly bullied Arsenal into just giving into their transfer demands by a well laid out strategy of public touting of the opposition’s players by their own. Also well known is their $400 million debt, while they still pay their best players a good part of $200,000 a week. In the case of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they spent the better part of $65 million for his transfer from Inter Milan , while they condemn Real Madrid even now of paying exhorbitant transfer fees for players.
Before we get ready to celebrate this current Barcelona team as the greatest ever, we need to ask that $400 million (Barcelona’s yearly revenue)question……did you do it all by footballing merit? While we wait for that answer, that cacophonic air in the footballing world prevails…………