Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughBarcelona at a Crossroads - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Barcelona at a Crossroads - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Barcelona at a Crossroads

By all accounts, on Saturday Barcelona tore through Osasuna, spanking the Pamplona side 8-0. While this may have added flames to the fire that is the non-competitive nature of La Liga, it also added to the thought that this Barcelona side is one of the best that the world has ever seen. But while everything on the pitch seems as rosy as ever, off the pitch the club appears to be at a crossroads.

Has there ever been a team that is as rooted in its community as Barcelona? This arguably stems back to the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, most notably as General Franco, the Spanish head of state banned regional nationalism. This of course included the Catalan language and flags, resulting in its removal from Barcelona’s club badge. Even when the Civil War was over, with Franco established as dictator of Spain, Barcelona were still targeted by the state. The story goes that in 1943, Barcelona was facing Real Madrid, a team firmly backed by the Nationalists, in the Copa del Rey semi-finals. Barcelona won the first leg 3-0 at Les Corts (Barcelona’s ground before the Nou Camp) and were expected to progress to the final. However, before the second leg, the players were pressurised by Franco’s police, reminding them of the ‘generosity of the regime’. Madrid won the match 11-1, comfortably progressing to the final before losing 1-0 to Atlético Bilbao.

This has regional identity has continued through to today. Of the 11 starters who defeated Osasuna, seven had progressed through Barcelona’s youth system, La Masia. In addition, further La Masia graduates, and Spanish World Cup winners, Pedro Rodríguez, Gerard Piqué and Andrés Iniesta were not even needed. Even Manchester United’s group of 1999 treble winners does not compare to the sheer amount of quality coming through La Masia. FC Barcelona is at the very heart of the Barcelona community; I visited Barcelona for two weeks in 2006. Everywhere I looked were posters of Carlos Puyol and Ronaldinho. I visited Espanyol’s ground (at the time, the city’s Olympic Stadium), and even there you could buy FC Barcelona merchandise. Espanyol are not a small club in Spain; they had just won the Spanish Cup, yet I was surrounded by the red and blue of FC Barcelona. I even bought an Espanyol shirt, and found people looking at me. I didn’t see another Espanyol shirt in my entire time there.

But, in the last year, we are seeing a move away from Barcelona’s community appearance. For years, they refused to have a sponsor on their shirt, and even when they did allow a name splashed across the front, it was UNICEF. But, last December, Barcelona agreed a then record breaking sponsorship deal with Qatar Foundation, about as foreign a deal as you can get. In addition, Barcelona is making obvious strides to penetrate new geographical markets. They are arguably now the biggest brand in world football, and are using this to their advantage. They have the top selling kit in Japan, and have recently launched a dedicated USA website in order to sell merchandise. While a lot of this is due to the level of debt that Barcelona have (£369 million in 2010), it also shows a clear policy to take the brand abroad.

While this model has long been followed by the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid, they do not have the level of community belonging that Barcelona rely on. Barcelona has even started cutting back on their domestic commitments, cancelling the planned expansion to the Nou Camp, although this was admittedly due to a lack of funding. Still though, the club cannot continue to ignore its core supporter base. At the moment, the fans still feel represented, mainly due to the number of players in the first team who are Barcelona through and through, in addition to club legend Pep Guardiola in the manager’s dugout. But Guardiola is not going to be there forever, he famously only ever signs one year extensions to his contract. And if a new manager comes in, who has less faith in the youth system, Barcelona could soon become as flooded with expensive foreign imports as every other club in Europe. Then, who do the fans identify with?

Tom Bason

Twitter: @toomb86

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