Barcelona deny selling soul after £125m deal with Qatar


Barcelona supporters were last night split between celebrating the prospect of having €30m (£25m) more to spend on new signings every year, and mourning the death of one of the principles that made the club special, as it was confirmed the club would accept a shirt sponsor for the first time in history.

For €150m, the Qatar Foundation's logo will appear on the famous red and blue shirts for five years starting in 2011. The record-breaking deal means Barcelona will pocket around €10m a season more than their rivals Real Madrid, who are sponsored by online betting company Bwin.

The sponsorship will be officially presented by Barcelona's president, Sandro Rosell, on Monday. Some called the decision sacrilegious, others suggested it would pave the way for a successful bid for Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas next summer. Caving in on one of the club's principles and associating themselves with an organisation linked to the most unpopular – though successful – World Cup hosting bid ever is a price Barcelona's directors decided they were prepared to pay, and last night vice-president Javier Faus defended the decision.

"It is not a commercial brand but a non-government organisation in a country that wants publicity through education and sport, and, as everybody knows, through organising the 2022 World Cup," said Faus. Admitting that talks had been ongoing before Qatar was awarded the World Cup, Faus added: "Barcelona needs the money to face up to our €420m debt."

Barcelona currently pay international children's charity Unicef to wear its logo on their shirts. That agreement stays in place and in three weeks' time a newly designed logo, which combines the two sponsors, will be unveiled.

Some fans feel that giving into market forces was inevitable but are still unhappy about the choice of sponsor. Faus insisted there was little difference between the Qatar Foundation and Unicef but critics have argued that the latter defends the rights of the very people whose freedoms are restricted in Qatar.

They have also questioned how a charitable organisation can commit so much money to advertising. The Barcelona vice-president was asked about Qatar's ruling powers and said: "It is an absolute monarchy but it is flexible and tolerant."

Tomorrow, Pep Guardiola's side face Real Sociedad, who are up to sixth in their first season back after a four-year absence from La Liga. Barcelona could rest Gerard Pique, who is one card away from suspension, so that he is definitely available for next week's Catalan derby.

Real Madrid travel to Zaragoza with Karim Benzema still deputising for the injured Gonzalo Higuain in attack and keen to build on his midweek hat-trick against Auxerre. Benzema said: "I've had some difficult times at this club since I arrived but now my head is up."

In Italy, Milan could pull 13 points clear of city rivals Internazionale if they beat Bologna tomorrow while Rafa Benitez's side are away on World Club Cup duty in Abu Dhabi.

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