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Controversy reigns as Barca net £125m deal from Qatar

Barcelona supporters were last night split between celebrating the prospect of having £25m more to spend on new signings every year, and mourning the death of one of the things that made the club special, as it confirmed it would accept a shirt sponsor for the first time in its history.

For £125m the Qatar Foundation's logo will appear on the famous red and blue shirts for the next five years, starting in 2011.

Some called the decision sacrilegious, others suggested it would pave the way for a successful Cesc Fabregas bid next summer. Caving in on one of the club's principles is a price the club's directors decided they were prepared to pay and last night one of its vice-presidents defended the decision.

Javier Faus said: "It is not a commercial brand, but a non-government organisation in a country that wants publicity through education and sport, and, as everybody knows, through organising the 2022 World Cup. Barca needs the money to face up to our £350m debt."

Barcelona currently pay Unicef to wear the international children's charity's logo on its shirt. That agreement stays in place and in three weeks a new logo that combines the two sponsors will be unveiled. Faust insisted there was little difference between the Qatar Foundation and Unicef, but critics have argued that one defends the rights of the very people whose freedoms are restricted in Qatar.

They have also questioned how a charitable organisation can commit so much money to advertising.

The Barcelona vice-president was asked about Qatar's ruling powers and said: "It is an absolute monarchy, but it is flexible and tolerant."

On the pitch Barcelona face Real Sociedad tomorrow, while Real Madrid take on Zaragoza.

In Italy, AC Milan could pull 13 points clear of city rivals Internazionale if they beat Bologna tomorrow, while Rafa Benitez's side are away on World Club Cup duty in Abu Dhabi.

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