FC Barcelona is Catalonia’s unarmed army. Or at least, that’s what Catalan writer Manuel Vázquez Montalban, a great fan of the Culé team, famously once said.
Vazquez Montalban’s statement perfectly epitomizes what Barcelona represents to Catalonia, a region that, although under Spanish authority, speaks its own language, flies its own flag, tells its own story, and has always sought greater autonomy from Spain.
In 1992, when Barcelona won their first Champions League with a beautiful free-kick goal from Ronald Koeman, Montalbán wrote a Catalonian fans Decalogue, in which he affirmed that “rooting for Barça was a declaration of the principles of Catalonidad.” He proposed that “Barça be viewed as a secular institution and like a religion without heaven or hell. Or rather, with relative heavens and hells: heaven is to defeat Real Madrid and hell is to lose against FC Barbastro.”
But a lot has changed in the twenty-three years since Barcelona’s first European Championship.
The Blaugranas are no longer an underdog, nor are they Catalonia’s symbolic unarmed military.
Today, nobody believes that Barcelona’s values are as pure as its playing style. Like its biggest national rivals and other European power institutions, Barça has become a “super club” motivated by global ambitions. Qatar Foundation paid $150 million dollars for the right to plaster their name across the Barcelona soccer jersey, replacing the UNICEF logo they once sported for free in support of the charity organization. Last year, they bought Luis Suarez for the cool price of $120 million dollars, and they’ve been prohibited by FIFA from buying new players for the next 14 months after repeatedly violating transferring rules regarding international players. They’ve also been involved in the mishandling of funds and tax evasion in Neymar’s signing.
And then there’s all the things we could say about the way they treated – and eventually booted – French defender Eric Abidal after he recovered from liver cancer.
And what about its youth academy La Masía? This season, Barcelona’s starting team has a high percentage of foreign players.
Let’s be honest, Barcelona is now like any other big European team. Their motto “Més que un club” (More than a club), which in the past made reference to the responsibility Barcelona had towards its fans and the Catalonian community, can now simply be interpreted as the often-repeated mantra of a corporation with subsidiary companies in China, Thailand, and the United States.
Change is constant in the world of soccer. Clubs have the right to adapt in their pursuit of their main objective – which is ultimately winning. At the end of the day, what happened in Barcelona was all part of a shift in policy oriented toward money-making, and, as they say, that’s the biz.
But for a long-time fan like me, I can’t help but feel like they’ve abandoned their role as a bastion of Catalan identity. Now, they’re just a global brand like any other European super club.