By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Editor
Johan Cruyff was not amused. Barcelona's famous shirt had remained unblemished by sponsors in the club's proud 110-year history. But then, along came the Qatar Foundation.
Incoming Barca president Sandro Rosell agreed the deal for a period of five seasons, with the club receiving €30 million each year, starting on July 1, 2011 and running until June 30, 2016, plus bonuses for trophies won that could total €5m. During the 2010-11 campaign, the club also receive a further €15m for the concept of commercial rights, bringing the total of the deal to €170m. It's a lot of money.
But not everyone is happy.
Cruyff called the deal 'vulgar', while previous president Joan Laporta said he would have preferred to have seen the shirts carry only the motif of Unicef, an image with 'a message, a cause'.
And now, Barcelona fans have voiced their discontent, too, with thousands already having signed a petition in an attempt to see the agreement revoked.
Money in the kitty | Puyol and Pedro show off Barca's new shirt sponsor"We, the undersigned fans of Futbol Club Barcelona, express our strong opposition to the decision about another logo on the jerseys of our football team," it says. "As fans, we have the utmost respect for our club and the board elected by the socis, but we cannot accept the shirt-sponsorship agreement with Qatar Sports Investment."
"For 111 years our commercial-free red-and-blue-striped tops have gained an iconic status worldwide and are one more reason to be a proud supporter of FC Barcelona. Our Club will lose something forever: its status as the only club in top-level football without a sponsor on their shirts. We ask the board of directors of FC Barcelona to stop the implementation of the shirt-sponsorship agreement with the Qatar Sports Investment and any other commercial sponsor, and instead develop current deals or find other solutions that does not involve putting logos on the jerseys."
Now, the agreement is being put to the vote in an Assembly on September 24. "We believe the decisions we have made are the correct ones," Rosell told La Vanguardia in an interview on Sunday. "But we have no problem in placing them under the judgement of the socios, because they are the owners of this club."
"Let's hope they share our opinion."
“Barca would be sustainable but on a different dimension. We couldn't carry on having the best squad in the world or the best coach in the world.”
- Barca president Sandro Rosell
And if they don't, the Barca president warned, the Catalan club may need to set more modest targets in future, adding that no other deal would bring in anywhere near the kind of funds raised by the Qatari investment.
"If that's what the socios want then fine. Barca would be sustainable but on a different dimension. We couldn't carry on having everything we have currently: the best squad in the world, the best coach in the world, being the biggest multi-sport club in the world, the youth academy. Our rivals would have an advantage."
When he speaks of the club's rivals, of course, Rosell refers to one in particular: Real Madrid. And the president hopes the very thought of losing ground to a side Barca fans love to hate with more passion than they sometimes appear to have for even their own team, will be enough to swing the vote in his favour.
With debts of almost €400m still remaining and an emergency €150m loan from last year to be paid back as well, it is a vote he can ill afford to lose.
Barca's marketing director, Laurent Colette, put the deal into perspective when he explained earlier this year: "The arrival of the Qatar Foundation on our shirts did not please the romantics but it was necessary. Without this sponsorship, we would have had to sell.”
“By selling the shirt, it shows me that we are not being creative - and that we have become vulgar.”
- Johan Cruyff
Even with the first installments of the sponsorship money, Barca still struggled to raise this cash this summer for the signings of Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas. So in order to hang on to those players, keep the likes of Lionel Messi and carry on beating Madrid, they may just have to build their future on the Qatar Foundation.
Most Barca fans fail to identify with Qatar, nor its foundation, but as they cringe when they cast their eyes on the club's famous shirt with a commercial logo on the front for the very first time, they would do well to remember that they have never had it so good.
The idea perhaps isn't a romantic one, but seeing Pep, Leo, Xavi, Cesc et al lead the Catalan club to glory at home and abroad remains the essence and the ethos for this spectacular side, while the footballing philosophy is deep-rooted and won't be changing any time soon either. Barca are more than just a logo.
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