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Politics Cloud FC Barcelona’s US Tour

“The UEFA Cup is not a fragile trophy” the man in white gloves explains. Standing in San Francisco’s St. Regis Hotel, the man responsible for transporting Barcelona’s three most recent trophies is a busy man. “The King’s Cup and the La Liga are more fragile, you have to be more careful with those,” he explains as he wipes the sweat from his brow and flashes a broad smile.

During their tour of the United States, FC Barcelona looked as fragile as any team. Barcelona had little to show for their U.S. tour, winning one match and losing two others. It was hard to watch for a team that won three trophies last season.

The biggest disappointment of the tour for Barcelona was their 3-1 defeat at the hands of Manchester United. This, the most highly anticipated match of the tournament, was in effect a rematch of the 2011 Champions League final.

The July 25 match took place at Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium, normally the home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. The stadium, which only started operations in 2014, has tried to prove itself as an important venue for multiple events. The stadium has already held everything from MLS matches featuring the San Jose Quakes to food events. Barcelona coach Luis Enrique complained after the match that the pitch was a bit “dry.”

On the pitch, there were few bright spots for Barcelona except Luis Suarez, who made use of the absence of fellow South American stars. Suarez showed off some of the most inspired plays of the ICC Cup in the 3-1 loss.

Missing Lionel Messi and Neymar, it was left to another South American star to save Barcelona’s honor — Brazilian star midfielder Rafinha scored the blaugrana’s lone goal in the 90th minute.

SOCCER: FEB 01 La Liga - Villareal at Barcelona

Yet, Barcelona’s off-field political drama overshadowed the ICC Cup. Elections held just before the tour re-elected the 52-year-old Josep Maria Bartomeu as the club’s president. He has drawn the ire of fans for selling advertisement space on the Barcelona jersey and for changing the direction of the red and blue bands on the team’s uniforms.

“Changing jersey stripes is against the club’s tradition, it’s like moving the A’s from Oakland down here to Santa Clara” said 29-year-old Jose Gutierrez, who attended the Barcelona in Santa Clara wearing an older Barcelona jersey.

Bartomeu’s presidency also faced another, perhaps more serious, controversy regarding the signing of underage players. As a result, a FIFA penalty levied last year prohibits Barcelona from fielding new players until January 2016.

In an attempt to brush-aside the issue ahead of the election, Bartomeu signed 28-year-old Arda Turan, the so-called “Turkish Lionel Messi” to a five-year deal worth €41 million. Many wonder if Turan will still be with Barcelona by then or if he will be traded this fall. The Guardian, a British newspaper, dismissed Arda Turan’s signing as reducing the player to the status of a “pawn” in a political game. Yet, three trophies were hard to argue with and that more than anything led to the success of the club.

More Silverware to shine?

While Barcelona is looking toward a new season, there is still plenty of silverware on the table before the year finishes. On August 11th, Barcelona will meet Sevilla for the UEFA Super Cup in Tblisi, Georgia. The two teams face-up well against one another on paper, check out some of the highlights from their 2-2 La Liga draw in April.

Barcelona is favored to win but, they might face La Liga’s Sevilla one more time this year in a critical match. In December, Barcelona will be a semi-finalist in the 2015 FIFA Club World Cup. Barcelona holds the distinction of twice winning the FIFA World Cup, first in 2009 and again in 2011. The only other club to win this tournament twice is Brazil’s CF Corinthians.

Barcelona’s rival Real Madrid has won the title twice as well and a record-setting third win would be even more rewarding than the title itself. Many of the participating clubs are yet to qualify, but the tournament will include Argentine club Rio Plate.

On paper, Barcelona should make easy work of Rio Plate, but in March the South American club beat Sevilla 1-0 at home to claim the Supercopa Euroamericana. If Barcelona wins either or both trophies, the man who travels with Barcelona’s trophy-case may soon have even more silverware to haul around.

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