Qatar sticks in the throat - but Barcelona have stolen a march on Real Madrid, Manchester United and the rest


Barcelona have been the best, now the priority is being the richest.

New president Sandro Rosell knows he can’t beat his predecessor’s achievements on the pitch so he plans to outdo him off it and topple Manchester United and Real Madrid on Forbes’ definitive football rich list.

Barca went from being ‘more than a club’ to ‘just another club’ this week when they scrapped their 111-year resistance to shirt sponsorship and with the help of Rosell’s business links in Qatar, closed a deal worth £140million over five years.

Barcelona's Andres Iniesta

Strip show: Andres Iniesta will be pumping his fist in a shirt bearing the Qatar Foundation's name next season

He is not worried about accusations he tip-toed around the club’s democratic process or that fans don’t like their club’s ethics being compromised by a partnership with a country that has human rights issues.

As he told Al Jazeera on Wednesday: 'The banks were the first to congratulate us.'

Annual friendlies and pre-season tours in Qatar form part of the sponsorship agreement because this is the new Barcelona. It’s a lot more like Florentino Perez’s Real Madrid and a lot less like the club of old.

Last year Barcelona were still basking in the glory of winning six trophies but despite having the best team in the world they trailed, not only Real Madrid and Manchester United, but Arsenal in the Forbes list of the world’s richest clubs.

That is set to change. Rosell has talked up Barcelona’s economic fragility calling it ‘an ocean liner powered by a superb team but with a hull full of holes’. The idea that without sponsorship the club would not be able to pay their wages has been conveniently exaggerated.

Laporta overspent in his final year but the grim picture Rosell paints leaves aside the estimated £340m value of the squad he inherited and the seemingly endless supply of homegrown youngsters that could keep transfer budgets to a minimum in coming seasons.

Barcelona’s former vice-president Marc Ingla said this week that the club’s current economic standing is no different to its position in 2006, when it last flirted with shirt sponsorship.

Ingla claims a £75m offer from Bwin was turned down in favour of paying to wear the logo of children’s charity UNICEF. 'The situation was the same then,' he said. 'We had an income of €208m (£141m) and a debt of €292m (£199m); now we bring in €400m (£340m) and the debt is €420m (£355m).'

Barca president Rosell (right) with Qatar Foundation vice-president Ahmad al-Sulaiti (centre) and Qatar Sports Investment's managing director Saif Ali al-Hajari at the announcement of the record-breaking shirt deal

Deal: Barca president Rosell (right) with Qatar Foundation vice-president Ahmad al-Sulaiti (centre) and Qatar Sports Investment's managing director Saif Ali al-Hajari at the announcement of the record-breaking shirt deal

For Rosell, his own links to Qatar and the country’s desire to pay for a massive image makeover were conditions too good to pass up on. His own sports image rights and events management company Bonus Sports Marketing has a long history of doing business in Doha.

It holds the rights to run Aspire - the country’s major sports academy - and such is the proximity of the new deal and Rosell’s business that he will complete the sale of it to Saudi firm DAG next January to ensure no one accuses him of a conflict of interests.

Those close links will continue, however, and further commercial link-ups are expected next year. Qatar investors – under various guises but with all wealth inevitably traced back to the ruling Al-Thani family – have been contemplating investment in both Manchester United and Real Madrid. Even if business with the former still materializes Rosell feels Barcelona have stolen a march on the competition.

Camp Nou bears the 'more than a club' catchphrase

Philosophy: The Camp Nou bears the 'more than a club' catchphrase

All of which makes weathering any storm of protest worthwhile. On Sunday Spanish paper El Mundo claimed the Qatar Foundation had given money to extremist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi an advocate of terrorism, wife-beating and anti-Semitism - something Rosell has dismissed as a mistake made in good faith.

It was even worth keeping any mention of the imminent deal out of this October’s members’ assembly. Negotiations were well already under way at that point but members were told nothing with the deal finally being sealed on November 17 when the two parties met at the Brazil v Argentina friendly in Doha.

A new design incorporating the Qatar Foundation’s tree logo will be presented in the next 10 days and 2m shirts will be made and put on sale next spring.

It remains to be seen how well they sell. The Camp Nou could yet fill up with retro tops in protest at the sell-out but it’s too late to change the decision. Barcelona might be no longer more than a club but Rosell will argue no one will remember that if he ends up making it the richest one in the world. 

Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho has been accused of neglecting the club’s youth system but no one can say he has not got his eye on the stars of the future after he watched his son Jose Jnr make his debut for DC Canillas Under-11s in Madrid this week. The young Jose had little to do in a 9-0 win, although he made one good save which brought his watching dad to his feet. The Real Madrid manager also stood to clap his son as the game ended. Another Mourinho – another home win.


Why Real Madrid need a striker like Tevez

Carlos Tevez could not have done it any better himself. It was midway through the first half and Jose Mourinho lost his temper on the Real Madrid bench, pumping out his elbows and pulling the face of a man who is not being allowed to buy a new striker.

The outrage had been provoked by a Karim Benzema miss and the furious elbow movements were aimed at letting the France striker know what he should have done.

He had just missed a clear opening inside the Zaragoza penalty area allowing himself to be sandwiched by two defenders. A more robust forward – Tevez for example – would have done as Mourinho had done in the dug-out and elbowed his way clear to score.

Karim Benzema (centre) toils against Zaragoza

Unconvincing: Benzema (centre) toils against Zaragoza to show why Madrid need a new No 9

Despite a hat-trick in the Champions League dead rubber against Auxerre last week Benzema is not convincing Mourinho, who wanted a striker at the start of the season and wants one even more now that his first choice forward Gonzalo Higuain is injured.

Tevez lacks the height to be the perfect Mourinho No 9 but he comes a lot closer than Benzema and his Champions League availability would sweeten the deal even more.

Unfortunately for Jose, one of the reasons the club signed him was so to avoid spending £30m on expensive already established players. Especially ones in the habit of handing in transfer requests.

Robinho was the last player who did that to them – and they sold him to Manchester City.