Barcelona mounted an impassioned defence of their £75m signing of Luis Suarez from Liverpool on Wednesday and did their best not to further antagonise Fifa as they continue the process of appealing his four-month ban from all football-related activities.
Asked if they had compromised their “More than a club” slogan by signing a player banned by the game’s governing body, sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta said: “The philosophy has never been about us claiming to be perfect. We accept human beings with all their imperfections. People get things right and they get things wrong and they can learn from their mistakes.
“In the history of this club we have had some good days and some bad days. What we have always done is learn from mistakes and turn them into positives. I am sure that Luis will be a positive force for this club in the future.”
But when asked where and how the striker might prepare for the season if the current ban on him setting foot in Barcelona’s Joan Gamper training complex is allowed to stand, Zubizarreta was less forthcoming. “Our lawyers tell us that we have to be very prudent in what we say about the matter,” he claimed. “We have to give them time to mount the best case before we say any more.”
Barcelona find themselves in a delicate situation as they try to change the nature of Suarez’s ban so that it at least no longer prevents him from training with his new team-mates. They are upset at what appears to be an attempt by Fifa to legislate beyond the limits of its jurisdiction – in effect preventing one of Barcelona’s employees from turning up at work – but they are dependent on the governing body allowing them to fast-track their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) in Lausanne.
10 of the best Luis Suarez memes
10 of the best Luis Suarez memes
1/10 Apple logo
Is this how the Apple logo was formed?
2/10 Panini sticker
One for Suarez's sticker album
Is this the only solution?
4/10 The Hunger Games
A new film starring Suarez?
5/10 Bite of the Year
To go on the mantelpiece alongside his PFA and Football Writer's awards?
6/10 Hungry Hippo
To play on the plane home?
Fifa do keep boasting about their shiny new goal-line technology toy after all...
9/10 Suarez Vision
Do this explain it?
10/10 Hannibal Lecter
Suarez's nickname when his played in the Netherlands was 'The Cannibal' after all...
Without that support Barça would have to follow a more standard appeals procedure that will take much longer than the Cas’s 15-day “express” hearing. They are also in the process of trying to persuade Fifa to lift a 14-month transfer ban imposed on the club for breaking rules over the signing of Under-18s.
They are keen to tread a different path to the one taken by Uruguay president Jose Mujica, who labelled the Fifa ban “fascist”. Suarez’s lawyer Alejandro Balbi also described the four-month ban from all football-related activity “blatantly draconian, totalitarian and fascist”.
The Barcelona president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, tried to mend bridges with Fifa president Sepp Blatter at the World Cup final on Sunday, while yesterday the new coach Luis Enrique even played down the effect that all the uncertainty over when Suarez can begin playing might have on the start of the season.
“It’s not a tragedy,” he said. “It’s not ideal but neither can it serve as any excuse. Another player will take his place with the Barcelona badge on his shirt and represent the club.
“The ideal situation is to have all the players at my disposal but we knew that he [Suarez] couldn’t train for four months when we signed him. The season is very long and he has signed for five years.”
Despite publicly trying to calm the situation, Barcelona remain upset that the second-biggest signing in their history behind Neymar is, as far as football is concerned, under Fifa house arrest. Their appeal is based largely on the way his four-month ban will in effect be longer than that because Suarez will need to regain fitness to be able to play once he has served the punishment.
Some influential voices at Barcelona have questioned how the trio of Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi will gel, with former Barça coach and player Johan Cruyff doubting their compatibility.
However, Luis Enrique said: “The better the players the club give me, the better it is for me. I’m delighted to have them but don’t forget about Rafinha [Alcantara], Pedro and Gerard Deulofeu that we also have in attack. It’s not just about those three.”
Most Barcelona supporters have welcomed the signing but questioned the fact that it was made before defensive reinforcements are brought in. It has now been five years since their last significant signing at the back and they have missed out on Javi Martinez, who went from Athletic Bilbao to Bayern Munich, Thiago Silva, who moved from Milan to Paris Saint-Germain, and most recently David Luiz, who left Chelsea for PSG.
Zubizarreta said: “We are working to strengthen the centre of defence – but so are 90 per cent of Europe’s top clubs. We have to look for players who are better than the ones we have.”
That last comment suggested a raft of options are in place, but with Carles Puyol retired and Javier Mascherano having reminded everyone how effective he is in midfield during the World Cup, Barcelona are reduced to Gerard Pique and the inexperienced Marc Bartra in central defence.
Luis Enrique will take his players to the Football Association’s St George’s Park near Burton on 29 July for the second stage of their pre-season preparations. It seems the future of two of the club’s most important players over the last seven years will still not be resolved by the time they touch down in England.Midfielder Xavi is due back in training on 24 July and defender Dani Alves returns on 5 August.
Luis Enrique said: “I’ve spoken to Xavi and if he continues here then great. We have a lot of respect for him.” Zubizarreta added: “Alves is one of ours. We will talk to him and see where we end up. Xavi and Alves have a contract but they have also earned the right to talk openly about their future and find the best solution for themselves.”
The new Barça coach was also asked about the form of Messi after his World Cup with Argentina ended in disappointment in the final against Germany. “I don’t think Messi is below par,” he said. “We’ve got a good group here and among them we still have the best player in the world.”