COMMENT: A club that still have the threat of a transfer ban hanging over them are shamelessly poised to acquire a player currently suspended until the end of OctoberMore than a club? For years, Barcelona prided themselves on being different to the rest: their playing philosophy changed the course of modern football and wowed the world; their values were admired far and wide.
The last year, however, has taken much of the shine off the Catalan club's squeaky-clean image. After two separate transfer-related scandals, their halo had been slipping anyway; with the club now having confirmed a deal to sign the suspended Luis Suarez, it has fallen to the floor and smashed into pieces.
Barca's style of play is still lauded, but Tiki-Taka is no longer the force it once was in European football and the Blaugrana have been in gradual decline on the pitch since the final year of Pep Guardiola's tenure, in 2011-12.
Off it, Guardiola was replaced by assistant and friend Tito Vilanova, whose battle against cancer captured the hearts of many football fans across the world. The Barca boss, along with defender Eric Abidal, represented a symbol of hope as he returned from illness to resume work for the Catalans before eventually stepping down due to a relapse last summer.
Abidal also returned after a liver transplant and was publically promised a new contract when he played again. That deal never materialised, however, and the France defender departed under a cloud, leaving many to question Barca's much-mentioned values.
Public criticism of Guardiola by spokesman Toni Freixa also upset many supporters. After all, it was the Catalan coach who had built this terrific team. Meanwhile, failure to convince the popular Thiago Alcantara that his future lay at Camp Nou was another bone of contention, although it was the transfer of Neymar from Santos which really rocked the Barca boat and ultimately brought an end to Rosell's reign.
Barca claimed the Brazilian cost €57.1m, but a complaint by socio Jordi Cases over how the money was spent led to a court case. And when a judge charged the Catalan club, and Rosell, with misappropriation of funds, the president decided to step down - despite continuing to protest his innocence.
New chief Josep Maria Bartomeu promptly revealed the figures behind the total operation in a press conference, but those showed Barca had spent in excess of €100m on Neymar and paid €40m up front to the players' parents. Many fans called for his resignation, too; others demanded summer elections.
The transfer ban for alleged irregularities in the signing of young players from overseas came hot on the heels of those legal battles and represented another hammer blow to the club's previously puritanical and almost self-righteous stance in recent years.
The decision to sign Suarez, who is currently banned from all football-related activity until the end of October for biting an opponent for the third time in four years, has well and truly shattered the illusion that Barcelona are a club of the utmost integrity. They are no different to any other major footballing superpower, for whom winning is all that matters; morals don't even come into the equation. Indeed, that they have signed a suspended player while under the threat of a transfer ban is just pure shamelessness.
More than just a club? Just another club, sadly.
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