NOT so long ago they were the model club, adored for their irresistible tiki-taka style, admired for their democratic ownership model and lauded for eschewing corporate shirt sponsors.
Today, however, Barcelona’s once pristine image looks sullied. Accused of irregularities in the signing of Brazil star Neymar and dethroned as kings of Europe, the latest and most damaging episode in the club’s fall from grace came yesterday when they were issued with a year-long transfer ban for breaking rules on the signing of foreign under-18 players.
The suspension, which forbids Barca from buying or selling players during the summer 2014 and January 2015 transfer windows, relates to 10 youth players and follows an investigation by world governing body Fifa.
Rules prevent clubs from signing minors from abroad except when aged 16-18 and within Europe, or when the player’s family moves to that country for other reasons. Fifa’s case is thought to include 16-year-old Korean prodigy Seung Woo Lee, who joined Barca’s renowned La Masia academy in 2011. He has been compared to Lionel Messi and was trailed by Chelsea before signing a first professional contract last month.
The ban also throws Barca’s summer plans into chaos. Pre-agreed deals for Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen and Dinamo Zagreb teenager Alen Halilovic are now in doubt, while the club also hoped to sign a defender to replace Carles Puyol, who is to retire.
Barca could yet earn a temporary reprieve through the courts, though. They last night announced plans to appeal to Fifa and, if necessary, the Court of Arbitration for Sport later this summer. Sports law experts say the latter measure may allow them to trade in the meantime.
Chelsea received a one-year transfer ban in 2010 after Fifa ruled they had induced teenager Gael Kakuta to leave Lens for London, but the suspension was lifted after the French club reached a financial settlement with the Blues and dropped the complaint.