Neymar controversy becomes a political hot potato at Barcelona


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Barcelona receive huge credit for being owned by their supporters. Fans frustrated by the model in England, where clubs have been allowed to be acquired by highly leveraged buy-outs or by owners so spurious that it's baffling how they passed the fit and proper persons test, see the Catalans as an inspiration. Not that any Portsmouth fans were complaining outside Wembley after they'd won the FA Cup in 2008.

It's true that all Barca's profits are reinvested, that the club is nominally owned by the supporters. After the woeful balance sheet of a decade ago, Barca is a much slicker commercial beast. Not the best, but one of them.

Certain ideologies have been compromised; the sponsor on the name of the shirt, for example, and another is likely when Camp Nou gets remodelled within the next decade. Rather than move, the club plan to expand the existing stadium from 98,000 to 105,000 seats and put a roof which will provide cover on all four sides rather than one.

It will be the best stadium in the world and the costs will be offset by a sponsor who will have access to name rights. It will also represent more erosion of the purity which Barca once pushed ... while they were losing money.

The move isn't entirely driven by increased capacity, but a desire for more executive seats in line with other big European clubs. Spain may be in economic distress, but there's plenty of old Catalan money about. There could also be a statue of Lionel Messi outside.

While there are positives to member-owned clubs, there are serious flaws. Because a new president needs to be elected every four years, political subterfuge is rife, the plates of power shift continually and media influence is more pervasive.

You won’t find any mention of Barca’s most successful president Joan Laporta at the club – and he only departed in 2010. That’s the Laporta who insisted that Guardiola was appointed when others wanted Mourinho.

Laporta is said to have desires to become president again, his relationship with incumbent Sandro Rosell long broken. That tends to happen at Barca, the most political of clubs. Watch the VIP seats when they play Manchester City next month.

Let’s just say that Rosell and Manchester City's chief executive Ferran Soriano, himself a former Barca vice-president, don't send each other Christmas cards. If normal etiquette is followed, the pair will have to sit side by side at both games. Not every television camera will be trained on the pitch.

Last year, the Catalan Public Prosecutor’s office announced that Soriano was being investigated for criminal liability. He was accused of authorising payments for spying at the club.

Barca's a curious club. Even Guardiola, the club's greatest ever manager, had enemies lurking in the shadows, hoping that he'd fail. Some were fans, others officials, other in the media. Each has their own agenda. So when Guardiola announced that he wanted a break, he meant from the politics as much as anything. It’s difficult to be in control of a behemoth like Barca.

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Outsiders may wonder why Barca are coming under so much scrutiny over the Neymar transfer deal. The club insist they've done nothing wrong, yet the allegations keep coming - that Barca paid too much, that the published figures are wrong. Nobody appears to know how much Neymar cost and where the money went.

Barcelona claim they spent €57 million (£47m) on the Brazilian, yet his former club Santos state that they only received €17.1m. The huge difference is lost in a muddle of allegations surrounding third-party ownership, future transfers and friendly matches between the clubs and payments to the player's father.

Deals involving South American players who are part-owned by third parties are notoriously opaque, yet Neymar’s deal appears unduly complicated and has attracted the attention of the courts.

Supermarket chain DIS, which paid €2.8m for 40 per cent of Neymar’s image rights, wants to know why they’ve received little money from his huge transfer. In an unedifying case, Barca admit paying €10m to Neymar’s father in 2011 to ensure that the player would chose the Catalans over Real Madrid, who also wanted to sign him.

Given that the player was contracted to another club, that’s an infringement of FIFA regulations. Santos claim Neymar’s father didn’t take the money, while Barca president Rosell said: “We paid €17.5m to Santos and €40m to an association who owned the rights to Neymar.” That company is called Neymar & Neymar, which is owned by the player and his father.

Rosell has been reported by Barca socio Jordi Cases for “inappropriate use” of club funds, though his attempts to engineer a vote of no confidence in Rosell didn’t raise sufficient support. Cases alleges that Barca have effectively paid a €40m signing-on fee to the player, which, if true, would be liable to taxes which could push the total transfer cost above €100m. If that figure were to include the wages in the five-year contract, it would be €124m.

There are other payments linked to the transfer, which include €7.9m to Santos for preferential rights to three promising Santos players, plus a friendly game where Barca would have to pay €4.5m if they can't fulfil the fixture. Barca could be facing an unlikely first - that of their two principal strikers appearing in court in the same season.

The High Court is involved. On Monday, Rosell said that the final fee was €57m. He claimed that he is bound by the confidentiality clauses in the contract not to say more. It's exactly those clauses which raise such suspicions among Barca members who want straight answers from their club. Or maybe those with an agenda do.

Rosell is likely to be summoned before a judge, where confidential clauses may be have to be disclosed if fraud is suspected. There are several interested parties. The tax man, for one. And his old friend Lionel Messi, who'd be miffed if he found out he wasn't the best-paid player at Camp Nou.

Andy Mitten - @AndyMitten

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