Josep Maria Bartomeu

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Barcelona chief backs Catalan leaders in clash with Spain

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu says Barcelona backs the leaders of Catalonia in response to the Spanish government’s decision to take over the regional government.

Bartomeu said on Saturday “the fact that people have been imprisoned for their political ideas is unacceptable in the 21st century. No one can question Barcelona’s commitment to Catalan society and its democratic institutions.”

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To block the Catalan independence push, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy wants the Senate to give him direct power to dissolve the regional Catalan government and call an early election.

Bartomeu says Barcelona sides with those who defend the Catalan people’s right to vote in a referendum for independence. He also says the club aims to remain in the Spanish league.

Barcelona leads La Liga, defeating Malaga late Saturday.

Reports: Coutinho, Dembele want Barca moves

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Liverpool, so far, are holding firm on the idea that Philippe Coutinho is not for sale, though Barcelona seems to know something the Anfield club does not.

Sky Sports’ Kaveh Solhekol says Coutinho would like to join Barcelona, and it’s the “only way” he’d leave Liverpool. He also would only leave if the deal could be done “amicably.”

Barca president Josep-Maria Bartomeu said the club will spend the approximate $262 million Neymar exit fee “sensibly, strictly, and wisely,” and Solhekol says the Barca president remains furious with Paris Saint-Germain and the other Middle East- and Russia-bolstered clubs.

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In that sense, Barcelona has a bit of a kinship with Liverpool, adding to the intrigue of a potential move. Jurgen Klopp would be very angry if the Reds relented and sold Coutinho.

Meanwhile, Solhekol took to Twitter to say that Klopp’s former club, Borussia Dortmund, also faces temptation via Neymar’s move, with BVB star Ousmane Dembele also desiring a move to Barca and an anticipated offer of $117 million.

Liverpool already shot down a Coutinho bid of around $88 million, and Coutinho has a bigger body of work but is five years older than Dembele (who is more of a winger and has better numbers relative to age). The BVB man had an assist as Dortmund fell to Bayern in penalty kicks after 120 minutes of the Bayern Super Cup this weekend, and had 10 goals and 21 assists in all competitions last season.

Coutinho had yet to post a season as statistically significant in assists, and it’s probably fair to say that Dembele is worth more on the market if Liverpool supporters are expecting as big a haul for their Brazilian star (should the Reds actually sell).

Liverpool could resist the urge to sell for competitive reasons, though it’d be wise to see what’s on the market in terms of potential replacements (Consider that Gabriel Jesus‘ value went from $4 million to $40 million to who knows what it would be right now). In the micro sense, it’s hard to put a number on Coutinho. In the macro, and looking at Dembele in comparison, the Reds could reload in a big way.

Let’s put it this way: If Barca used the Neymar fee to buy Coutinho and Dembele, many would think the Blaugranas will have come to close to winning the exchange, or at least breaking even.

Barcelona asks court to act against Spanish league president

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona is asking a sports tribunal to consider sanctioning the Spanish federation and the president of the Spanish league after they condemned a goal celebration and accused players of provoking rival fans.

The club said Thursday it has formally requested the Administrative Court of Sport open disciplinary proceedings against Javier Tebas and members of the federation’s competition committee after their “unacceptable public declarations and assessments” about Barcelona players.

[ MORE: Spanish FF chastises Barcelona ]

The competition committee fined Valencia 1,500 euros ($1,600) on Wednesday after water bottles were thrown at Barcelona players celebrating a late winner in a Spanish league match on Saturday in Valencia.

It also condemned the attitude of the players by saying they shouldn’t have turned to the stands to celebrate and that they exaggerated after some of them were hit by one of the bottles. It said their actions exposed them to ridicule.

Barcelona said the committee “is not there to make assessments but rather to take disciplinary action, or not, in order to make an example of incidents that occur” on the pitch.

“Making statements regarding the actions of the players adds even more tension to a situation that must be deescalated,” Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu said.

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Bartomeu also had harsh words for Tebas, who told Spanish media that he didn’t like the attitude of some Barcelona players, hinting that they provoked the fans during their celebration.

“The declarations made by Tebas are irresponsible and unbecoming of a sports executive,” Bartomeu said.

Barcelona’s next game is Saturday against last-place Granada at the Camp Nou.

Barcelona reflects on UEFA Champions League ouster: “It was not to be”

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AC Milan’s status as the last club to win consecutive European Cups is safe for at least another two years after Atletico Madrid bounced Barcelona from the UEFA Champions League at the quarterfinal stage on Wednesday.

Barca led 2-1 after one leg, but gave up a goal to Antoine Griezmann early to put Atletico Madrid in the driver’s seat.

[ MORE: Atleti 2-0 Barca | Benfica 2-2 Bayern ]

When all was said and done, Barca could not put a ball behind Jan Oblak and Griezmann scored again to push Atletico to the semifinals.

Say this about Barcelona: They are of one mind.

Earlier this season, it looked like Barca was ready to lay claim to being the greatest team in a generation or more. The club now must regroup to halt its losing streak at three matches.

Barca is three points ahead of Atletico Madrid with six matches to play in La Liga, and is also in the Copa del Rey final. The Blaugranas have won the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup.

But how hungry will they be to reverse their recent trend?

A $218 million bid? $360 million price tag? Neymar, Manchester United saga raising eyebrows

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Neymar’s agent was at Old Trafford for Manchester United’s weekend clash with Newcastle United, jumpstarting the unlikely rumors that the Brazilian superstar could be en route to the Theater of Dreams.

And as crazy as it sounds, the reports have done two things for the world of soccer:

  1. Taught us how willing the media is to run with unlikelihood
  2. Shown us some crazy big transfer fees

At some level, this Neymar story is perfect. We rarely get to see a megastar, still on the verge of his prime years, change clubs. So the deals we see are usually on potential, star power or name quality.

With Neymar, we get to see all three. And the prices are staggering.

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Reports from Brazil’s GloboEsporte say that United have bid approximately $218 million for Neymar — the price tag of his release clause — but that’s nothing compared to the report that Red Devils executive is willing to pay up to $360 million for the star, hoping to make the man the flagship of his business.

That’s 3.6 million $100 replica kits. For comparison, United and Real Madrid duke it out annually for most replica shirts sold as a club. The number in 2013-14 was around 1.5 million.

The Guardian says Neymar has told United he’s interested in joining their club, but that the Premier League outfit is well aware that it could be a ploy to get a new, rich deal from Barcelona.

Neymar is signed through 2018 at Barcelona, and president Josep Maria Bartomeu doesn’t expect him to go:

“We do not want Neymar to leave,” the Blaugrana supremo told Radio Catalunya . “He is young and we want him to retire here at our club.”

Yet could they turn down $360 million? Even at Barca, that number is bonkers.

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There’s another level to this, and it involves setting the market. $360 million is close to three Gareth Bales (Sold for 85 million pounds). So perhaps it’s the same thing as Bale with a closely-cropped haircut. The repercussions would be staggering, raising the fees for mid-level players as well and lighting a fuse connected to Financial Fair Play and fiscal responsibility.

In any event, even considering the numbers above it would be shocking if any Neymar sale happened before Sept. 1. Barcelona doesn’t get the influx of players it bought this summer until after its transfer ban is lifted ahead of the January window. And with Pedro sold, the money would only help the club if they had a replacement ready right away.

Still, the saga is showing us something new, and something bonkers. We’ve gotten used to big numbers in the transfer world, but nothing like this.