Barcelona sack sports director following transfer ban

Andoni Zubizarreta

Barcelona on Monday sacked their sports director Andoni Zubizarreta, just days after the main international sports appeal court backed a one year transfer ban against the Spanish giants.

“The FC Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu has decided to terminate as of today the contract of the Club’s Director of Football, Andoni Zubizarreta,” the club said in a statement.

“The President, in the name of the Club, thanks Andoni Zubizarreta for his contribution, dedication and professionalism over the last four years in his role at the head of the Club’s football area.”

Zubizarreta, a 53-year-old former Barcelona goalkeeper who has 126 caps for Spain, joined the Catalan side as its sporting director in 2010. His contract was not set to expire until 2016.

The announcement comes after the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on December 30 dismissed a Barcelona appeal against the FIFA ban imposed in April for breaching rules on signing players aged under 18.

Barcelona cannot buy players during the transfer window that opens on January 1 and for the summer transfer period before the 2015-16 season.

They can only open the cheque book again in January 2016.

Barcelona were also fined 450,000 Swiss francs ($455,000, 375,000 euros).

The club said they “totally disagree” with the sanction which they called “disproportionate” and “excessive”.

The Catalan side acknowledged making “errors” but said these were caused by “conflict between FIFA regulations and Spanish legislation.”

FIFA ordered the ban in April after an investigation into several under-18 players who were registered and played for Barcelona between 2009 and 2013.

It found that Barcelona and the Spanish federation were guilty of a “serious” infringement of rules for 10 players.

– Signings criticised –

During an interview with Spanish public television TVE on Sunday, Zubizarreta suggested that Bartomeu, a former Barcelona vice president, may have been partly to blame for the transfer ban.

Barcelona’s board is scheduled to meet on Monday evening and Bartomeu will appear at a press conference on Wednesday to explain the club’s decision to fire Zubizarreta.

Under Zubizarreta’s watch as sporting director, Barcelona won the Spanish league title twice — in 2011 and 2013 — as well the Champions League in 2011.

But last year Barcelona won no major silverware and several major signings carried out by Zubizarreta have not produced the hoped for results, sparking criticism from fans and Spain’s sports media.

Barcelona signed Brazilian right-back Douglas Pereira from Sao Paulo in August 2014 but he has failed to find his place in the squad.

Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen, signed in August from Premier League side Arsenal, underwent surgery last month on his troublesome right hamstring and will be sidelined for four months.

Barcelona crashed 1-0 away to Real Sociedad on Sunday with the Catalan side paying the price for leaving both Lionel Messi and Neymar amongst nearly 300 million euros of talent on the bench.

A third league defeat of the season means Barca remain a point behind leaders Real Madrid having also played a game more than the European champions.