Barcelona's reputation being tarnished thanks to Suarez pursuit

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There are more than a few impressive things about the Nou Camp; the sheer size of this cavernous bowl dumped in downtown Barcelona, the dazzling silverware collection tucked away in a room underneath the stands, and even the grandeur of the changing rooms never fail to impress.

But there's one aspect that always feels special, one that tourists gather round to take endless pictures. Upon emerging from the stadium's undercarriage, blinking into the light, each fan is confronted with the club's motto emblazoned into the far-side stand; Més que un club. More than a club.

It's more than just a motto for Barcelona; it's an ethos. Deemed pious by some, the Catalans live and die by the phrase - from their philosophically pure style of play to their charitable endeavours off the pitch. Indeed, in 2006 while other clubs were raking in millions through shirt sponsorship deals, they handed over precious real estate on the front of their shirts to Unicef, and actually paid them money to help towards their humanitarian efforts.

Their position as the unofficial club of Catalonia means they take it upon themselves to differentiate themselves from the rest of Spain. They are the socialists, the rebels, the thorn in the side to the authority figure that is Real Madrid. 

For a time, there were few who could argue with that position. At their dizzying peak under former boss Pep Guardiola between 2008 and 2011 they were untouchable, the darlings of the game. Their approach to football was beautiful, their demeanour and efforts off the pitch admirable. They won countless trophies and even more fans along the way. 

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What goes up must come down. It seems the weeds have forced their way through the concrete at Barcelona, opening up cracks to make the club a shadow of it's former self. Scandal followed scandal. Those who resented Barcelona for pitching themselves right at the very top of the moral high ground, rubbed their hands together in glee as the Catalan's crown slipped.

First they did away with the Unicef sponsor and pocketed £125 million from Qatar Airways. Not the most heinous crime but enough to raise eyebrows. Soon they will become the first club to place advertising on their shirt sleeves thanks to a deal with Turkish firm Beko. American firm Intel paid a reported £15 million to place their logo on the inside of shirts in the hope it's revealed when a player celebrates a goal. Hitting the back of the net has been commodified.

Trouble brewing

Then of course there's the murky business of Neymar's transfer. Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu - whose predecessor Sandro Rosell was forced to step down over the scandal - admitted it was 'embarrassing' as sordid detail after sordid detail of the deal emerged in the press; it was revealed that the Brazilian's father was paid huge sums to make it happen, and that they'd tried to hide the true value of the transfer in order to avoid paying tax.

That proved to be a mistake, with the club being formally accused of tax fraud in February, when a judge in Spain ruled there was enough evidence to continue investigations into the transfer. It is said they tried to avoid paying around £8 million in tax - a crime which is made even worse when you consider that Barcelona - along with Real Madrid - receive inexplicable tax breaks from the Spanish government.

Even Lionel Messi, perhaps the world's most meek and reluctant superstar, had a few choice words for Barcelona vice-president Javier Faus when he denied that the Argentinian would be handed an improved contract. 

"Faus is a person who does not know anything about football," Messi told RAC1. "He tries to run Barcelona like a business, but this is a football club. Barcelona are the best club in the world and should also have the best directors in the world." All is certainly not well behind the scenes, and the men who control the club's fortunes don't seem able to live up to the high standards demanded by fans and players alike.

Suarez pursuit

That brings us on to Luis Suarez. The Liverpool striker appears to be on the verge of joining Barcelona in a deal that could be worth up to £80 million - which would make him the second-most expensive player of all time alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. Reports say talks between Barcelona and Liverpool began today, and are progressing well.

The Uruguayan's track record is well established, and his latest endeavour has been analysed the world over. His biting of Giorgio Chiellini's shoulder during his country's World Cup encounter against Italy has been the most talked about event at a tournament that is being described about as one of the greatest ever. 

Before we go any further, it's worth stating that by simply signing Suarez, Barcelona won't tarnish their reputation. Football is riddled with moral malleability, and that's never more true than when a fan is discussing his own team. The Liverpool man was punished for his actions - a nine game and four month ban no less - which weren't overly viscous, but just downright weird. He needs help, that much is true, but he doesn't deserve to be consigned to the waste pile.

Less than a club

No, instead Barcelona appear to be showing their true colours in their pursuit of Suarez. It is claimed that his volte-face from telling FIFA he fell onto Chiellini - which it must be remembered was a plea rejected by seven independent judges and which actually served to increase his suspension - to issuing a very public apology for his actions was instigated by Barcelona.

How very convenient was it then, when Josep Maria Bartomeu praised the Liverpool forward for being 'humble' enough to apologise, and saying it was "to his credit" that he plucked up the moral fortitude to repent his sins. How delightful. And how easy it is to forget, too, that Barcelona, a club banned from making transfers this summer for their dealings with underage players (which has been removed pending appeal), are trying to sign a player banned from football. They're a perfect match.

Now the charm offensive continues. Barcelona icon Carles Puyol spoke of Suarez's quality today, while mouthpieces El Mundo Deportivo and Sport, both high-profile Catalan newspapers, have gone into overdrive in an attempt to whip up a frenzy. Barcelona aren't the only club to use media like this, not by a long way, but they are certainly amongst the best at doing it.

Lack of silverware

In recent seasons, Barcelona's success on the pitch has tailed off along with their reputation as White Knights of the game. With Guardiola gone they're no longer the dominant force they were. Gerardo Martino led them to their lowest ebb in recent seasons by failing to win a single trophy last season - not too shabby by most standards, but a disaster for a club that can rightly claim to be one of the biggest and wealthiest in the world. Needless to say Martino was let go.

They now face a huge overhaul on the pitch but perhaps it is elsewhere that they need to ring the changes. Their reputation has been dragged through the mud over the past year, and it is hard to shake the feeling that Barcelona's true face is being revealed. Far from being a model to follow they are the same as all others; a commercially-driven monolith, driven by self interest and the bottom line. Their handling of the Suarez transfer is merely the latest example of that. 

As long as their logo is proudly displayed upon the seats of the Nou Camp, the fans will continue to attract fans and a thousand pictures. Perhaps the motto rings true still. They're still more than a club. But not in a good way.

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