An insightful exploration of the football world through the lens of FC Barcelona

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Jan Andre Lee Ludvigsen
School of Humanities and Social Science, Liverpool John Moores University


Jim O’Brien, Xavier Ginesta & Jordi de San Eugenio (eds.)
FC Barcelona: History, Politics and Identity
288 pages, paperback
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2024
ISBN 978-1-03-227278-8

The slogan of FC Barcelona – ‘Més Que Un Club’ – translates into ‘more than a club’. In many ways, the new edited collection, FC Barcelona: History, Politics and Identity, edited by Jim O’Brien, Xavier Ginesta and Jordi de San Eugenio captures precisely this, and showcases the breadth and width of FC Barcelona’s significance which extends well beyond the football pitch and, indeed, the ‘football world’. As someone who grew up witnessing the peak of Ronaldinho and the meteoric rise of Lionel Messi in the early and mid-2000s, I have always possessed a fascination for Barça. Reading FC Barcelona: History, Politics and Identity has undoubtedly added an academic layer to my initial sporting-related fascination of the club.

The backdrop of the edited collection – which consists of 16 chapters written during the 2022-23 season, sandwiched by an introduction and a conclusion – is complex. As the editors point out in the book’s introduction, FC Barcelona will, in 2024, celebrate its 125th anniversary, return to an upgraded Camp Nou stadium, and the club remains one of world sport’s most valuable and global brands. However, the editors note, ‘[b]eneath the surface all is not what it seems in this glittering public relations display’ (p. 1). Recent years have seen the club struggle financially. Moreover, in what may be described as the ‘post-Messi’ epoch, the club has failed to dominate European football and replicate the ‘halcyon days of tiki-taka possession football in the club’s golden age of Pep Guardiola and Luís Enrique Martínez’ (p. 2).

Against this background, the book aims to offer an inter-disciplinary and global (case) study of Barça and sets out to embark on the ‘shared objectives of critically analysing and evaluating the multiplicity of factors which continue to shape one of the global game’s most famous footballing and sporting institutions’ (p. 2). Structurally, the book is divided into four sections – (i) history and political culture; (ii) media, cultures and identities; (iii) brands and commodities; and, (iv) Barça and its international markets – which take the reader on a journey that positions Barça in historical, local, regional and, eventually, global contexts through an exploration of diverse and current social and political issues and themes. In the introductory chapter, the book’s theoretical approaches to the ‘global football industry’ are also unpacked. Here, it is possible to see that the book’s disciplinary ‘home’, despite its inter-disciplinary approach, mostly appears to be within sociology (globalization – or even ‘glocalization’, identity and gender politics) and media and communications studies (mediatisation).

The individual chapters build both logically and nicely upon each other and manage to tell a story that gradually develops our understanding of the ‘local’ and the ‘global’ FC Barcelona; and of the club’s position as, the editors write, a ‘complex enigma’ and a ‘political and cultural chameleon’.

Whilst there is no space here to unpack every chapter, the five chapters of Part I provide what can be said to compose a political history of Barça after its foundation in 1889. Here, the reader gains an understanding of a football club that became increasingly embedded in global marketplaces whilst still trying to maintain its cultural and local roots and Catalan identity. Part II, meanwhile, consists of four chapters that focus broadly on the nexus between identity and media. Here, the representation of Barcelona in different media settings is explored, and we are given an insight into how the club operates on social media platforms to engage with its global audiences.

Parts III and IV capture the relationship between Barça and elite football’s commodification and globalization processes and the associated rise of global markets that top clubs have capitalized on as football’s global reach and popularity have increased. The latter two parts of the book – composing seven chapters altogether – offer an examination of topics including the branding of Messi, sports diplomacy and the club’s role in the – for now – unsuccessful European Super League project, which Barcelona – for long – remained one of the most persistent and loudest advocates for. The reader also gains an understanding of Barça as situated within the African, Middle Eastern, Asian and the US contexts underlining, collectively, the truly global significance of the Barcelona brand, beyond Spanish and European football.

Given my own research interest in the nexus between securitization processes and football fan cultures, I particularly enjoyed Chapter 8 by Viñas because the author captures here not only the politically, ideologically and generationally heterogenous supporter groups that exist within Barcelona’s organized, radical fan scene, but the inter-play, spatial and complex negotiations between these organized groups, club officials, football authorities and the police within a social field. For example, Viñas’ historiographic approach reveals how security-related restrictions post-Heysel, enforced by the club and police, as well as UEFA regulations seeking to respond to supporter violence, had a big impact upon fan cultures, violent behaviour and specific supporters’ group positioning within the stadia. Interestingly, Viñas’ chapter highlights one paradox here, which is not uncommon in other football cases – namely that the attempts to clamp down on fan-related disorder and violence inside the stadium contributed to, at times, relocating it ‘to the surroundings of Camp Nou or the road’ (p. 132).

Players celebrating the goal of Leo Messi (min. 88) during the Spanish Supercup final match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, 3–2, on August 17, 2011 in Barcelona. (Shutterstock/Natursports)

Whilst the list of topics covered in this book is certainly impressive, what is missing here is perhaps a chapter wholly dedicated to the El Clásico – Barcelona’s rivalry with Real Madrid (indeed, an important part of one’s identity also remains who one is not) although O’Brien assigns a subsection to this in in Chapter One – as well as Barça’s youth academy, La Masia, which holds an almost legendary status within football, having contributed to the development of players like Messi, Iniesta and Xavi. In terms of the latter, such a chapter could have fitted the book’s local-global approach nicely given that La Masia lends itself to the exploration of topics including transnational mobilities and player recruitment, local talent and, indeed, the (international) regulation of football transfers. At the same time, it is of course always the case that the decision to include some topics translate into the ‘exclusion’ of others.

Overall, one of the biggest challenges when putting together an edited collection can be to ensure there is a coherency and consecutiveness throughout the volume that threads it together. I would argue that the editors and authors of FC Barcelona: History, Politics and Identity have been successful here. The individual chapters build both logically and nicely upon each other and manage to tell a story that gradually develops our understanding of the ‘local’ and the ‘global’ FC Barcelona; and of the club’s position as, the editors write, a ‘complex enigma’ and a ‘political and cultural chameleon’ (p. 271).

Following David. L. Andrews’ edited book, Manchester United: A Thematic Study, from 2004, there have been some attempts by academics to produce analyses through club-specific case studies. Examples include John Williams’ Red Men Reborn! A Social History of Liverpool Football Club from John Houlding to Jurgen Klopp and David Kennedy’s A Social and Political History of Everton and Liverpool Football Clubs. O’Brien, Ginesta and de San Eugenio’s volume marks another addition in this regard. Its chapters will be useful for scholars and students with an interest in – most obviously, FC Barcelona and football – but also the globalization of sport, the symbiotic sport and media couplet, and social identity and fandom. Potentially, this interesting book may also prompt future, similar and welcome analyses of social and political issues as seen through the lens of one club.

Copyright © Jan Andre Lee Ludvigsen 2024

Table of Content

Introduction: FC Barcelona, a Club Apart or Just Like All the Rest?
Jim O’Brien, Xavier Ginesta and Jordi de San Eugenio

Part I: History and Political Culture

      1. FC Barcelona, Football, Politics and Culture: Foundations and Legacies
        Jim O’Brien
      2. The Transformation of FC Barcelona from ‘More Than a Club’ to a Global Brand
        Joan Esculies and Iwan Williams
      3. FC Barcelona, Governance, Democracy and the Commercial Impulse: Striking the Balance
        Sean Hamil
      4. Presidential Politics in FC Barcelona and Power in Contemporary Catalonia
        Albert Juncà Pujol and Joel Rookwood
      5. Politics, Identity, Capitalism and Desire: An Anthropologist Reports from Camp Nou
        Mariann Vaczi

Part II: Media, Cultures and Identities

      1. Folklore, Narratives and Metanarratives: The Commodification of FC Barcelona’s Storytelling
        Joaquín Marín Montín and Paula Bianchi
      2. FC Barcelona and Media Representations: Scottish Perspectives
        Raymond Boyle
      3. A Historical Perspective on Fan Cultures at FC Barcelona: Spectators, Supporters and Hooligans
        Carles Viñas
      4. FC Barcelona and Digital Communication in the Twenty-First Century: Strategy, Values and Entertainment in a Brave New World
        Guillermo Sanahuja Peris, Eva Breva Franch and Santiago Mayorga Escalada

Part III: Brands and Commodities

      1. Studying FC Barcelona as a Corporate Body: How to Become a Global Entertainment Multinational in the Post-Covid Era
        Xavier Ginesta, Enric Ordeix and Gregory Payne
      2. Sport Diplomacy and Sport Place Branding in the Metropolitan, National and International Space: Promoting FC Barcelona and Catalonia
        Xavier Ginesta, Jordi de San Eugenio and Gema Lobillo Mora
      3. FC Barcelona and the European Super League: Necessity and Desire
        Jordi Badia Perea, Santiago Giraldo Luque and Cristina Fernández Rovira

Part IV: FC Barcelona and Its International Markets

      1. Lionel Messi as a Global Icon: The Player as Personal Brand in the History of FC Barcelona
        Nahuel Ivan Faedo and Montse Corrius
      2. FC Barcelona and the Middle Eastern, Chinese and Asian Markets: Eastern Frontiers
        Carlos Pulleiro Méndez and Fernando Gutiérrez Chico
      3. FC Barcelona in the United States: A Situational Assemblage
        David L. Andrews, Francesc Solanellas, Junbin Yang and Brandon Wallace
      4. FC Barcelona and Africa: The Blind Spot of Corporate Communication
        Raúl Martínez Corcuera and Max Mauro

Conclusion: A Catalan Club or a Global Superpower?
Jim O’Brien, Xavier Ginesta and Jordi de San Eugenio

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