Arsenal used to be the self-proclaimed ‘masters’ of playing ‘pretty football’ until their English rivals forced them to seek balance and Barcelona usurped them on the pitch, with two Champions League titles and their players forming the core group of the Spain team that won Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.
So that’s the footballing side taken care of then – but off the pitch it’s a fairly similar story. Arsenal’s policies in financial management and club ownership were (and still are) laudable, but their ‘holier-than-thou’ stance when it came to press coverage was anything but. The more you heard about how ‘well-run’ Arsenal FC was (owned by Englishmen, purpose-driven debt, etc etc), the more you wondered why they felt the need to bang on ‘ambition’, ‘progress’ and ‘financial health’, when none of these three were being demonstrated on / off the pitch.
Barcelona have just gone ahead and whacked Arsenal off the park in this matter too. Politicisation of the club to benefit ‘brand Barcelona’? Check. Hyping up their status as the only team to actively reject a shirt sponsor 6 months before signing one? Check. Positioning themselves as ‘more than just a club’ and a force of doing good off the pitch, but refusing to agree to a collective TV deal that would strengthen their domestic league and help other football clubs? CHECK.
Regardless of what the PR machine says, Barcelona are just like Real Madrid (only better on the pitch, and slightly less wealthy off it). In fact, in many ways they want to be the Real Madrid of this world – they would love to make the sort of money Real Madrid does off commercial and matchday activities, and they’d love to be as global a brand as Real Madrid have become.
And they’re well on that path – the Qatar Foundation sponsorship was just the first step, further plans include a ‘cheaper’ renovation of the existing Camp Nou (so it can help them make more money), publicly conducting their transfer business to unsettle players, piss off clubs and do anything possible to drive the best possible deal for the club, and the coup de grace, suggesting an expanded version of the Champions League and reducing the domestic commitments as a result.
To be fair, reducing the size of the domestic league in itself isn’t a bad thing – nor is increasing the number of European matches the top clubs play each year. Having shirt sponsors is a good thing (really, it’s premium advertising space, it’s stupid not to leverage it), and I don’t blame Barcelona for not voluntarily reducing their broadcasting revenues. The issue isn’t that they’re making money (or want to make money), but that they keep pretending to be one thing and then go out and do something completely different.
Barcelona seem to have latched onto something that Madrid understood from the start and Arsenal are slow to learn – you can either leave money on the table for false ‘principles’ that you don’t really believe in and get some goodwill, or you can take that money, and put some of it into creating PR campaigns and seeding stories in newspapers to generate enormous amounts of goodwill while laughing all the way to the bank.
Good on you Barcelona – now if only you could stop pretending you cared.
Also See: Arsenal v Barcelona Champions League Preview.