In part because of that unique status, FC Barcelona, founded in 1899, attracts a global following of 1,500 fan clubs in more than 20 countries. It has more than 100,000 club members, including honorary member Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) and opera legend Jose Carreras. Its museum receives more visitors than any other in the region, except for Picasso's. Its uniform is considered so sacred, Barcelona is one of the few major clubs in the world to not have the name of a sponsor splashed across the chest.
Barcelona and Real Madrid have almost always dominated Spanish soccer, but in recent times, Madrid has held a distinct advantage -- both in Spain and Europe. Barca has won the European title just once, in 1992, and hasn't captured the league championship since consecutive crowns in 1998-99. Last season's poor start and sixth- place finish in Spain's 20-team La Liga, 22 points behind champion Real Madrid, cost two coaches their jobs.
Early in the summer Barcelona seemed on the verge of adding the biggest prize of all, Englishman David Beckham, whose bending free kicks and glamorous lifestyle would've brought untold attention to the team and city. New team president Joan Laporta had placed Beckham's signing at the top of his election platform; Laporta won, but Beckham went to Madrid. [Barca] didn't get its man, but made clear to the soccer world that it was serious about rejoining the elite ranks.
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