The Qatar Foundation’s controversial $200 million sponsorship of FC Barcelona saved the crowned Spanish soccer club from having to sell its celebrity players, including FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, according to an interview in Le Parisien with the club’s marketing director, Laurent Colette, and a report in World Football Insider.
The sponsorship agreement was Barcelona’s first ever commercial deal. In fact, in the past it donated shirt space to UNICEF. Both deals sparked criticism from club supporters who saw them as a violation of the club’s 111-year traditions. Some critics charged it may have influenced Spain’s vote in the FIFA decision to grant Qatar the hosting of the 2022 World Cup.
“…the arrival of Qatar Foundation on the jersey was necessary but did not please the romantics. But if we did not have this sponsorship, we would have had to sell," Colette said.
The Qatar Foundation is a philanthropic organisation run by the Qatari ruler’s wife, Sheikha Mozah
Barcelona has debts estimated at $700 million and was last year forced to take out an emergency $200 million loan to cover costs. The club sold some of their peripheral players to drive down losses of $120 million.
Former Dutch player and Barcelona legend Johann Cruyff charged in his weekly column for ElPeriodico de Catalunya: “We have sold this uniqueness for about six per cent of our budget. I understand that we are currently losing more than we are earning. However, by selling the shirt it shows me that we are not being creative, and that we have become vulgar. If things are so bad, then we should cut out the deal we have with UNICEF, and all the values it represents, because we pay them to carry the logo on our shirts."