Shakira and Gerard Pique find Barcelona a new shirt sponsor
Spanish club signs a deal with Japanese online shopping firm Rakuten and will use the money to keep Lionel Messi
Barcelona have agreed a £200m shirt sponsorship deal with Japanese technology company Rakuten, thanks to defender Gerard Pique and his popstar wife Shakira.
The couple are friends with Rakuten's chief executive Hiroshi Mikitani and organised a dinner in San Francisco last year where the "foundations" of the partnership were laid, revealed Barca vice president Manel Arroyo.
Rakuten will replace Qatar Airlines on the famous blaugrana shirts from next season onwards. The Japanese firm will be the club's second commercial shirt sponsor.
"Relations with the current sponsors had deteriorated after Josep Maria Bartomeu, the current Barcelona president, suggested that a worsening of the 'social and political' situation in Qatar had led the club to question its commercial relationship with the Gulf State," reports The Times.
"The new deal with the Japanese firm, a competitor to Amazon, will see Barcelona earn €55m per year (£47.2m) for the next four years, close to the $70m (£56.2m) commanded by Manchester United for their agreement with Chevrolet. The Catalan club will also receive bonuses for winning trophies."
Both Pique and Shakira were present at the "celebratory dinner" with Mikitani this week when the deal was formally announced, says the Daily Mail.
The paper adds that the new deal "represents a sizeable increase on income from the €33.5m that current shirt sponsor Qatar have been paying", and says that Barcelona will use the extra money to fund a deal to keep Lionel Messi at the club.
The Argentine star has reportedly turned down a new offer at Barca in the wake of his tax evasion case. But Barcelona hope some extra money will help change his mind.
"Messi's new deal needs to maintain his status as the world's top earner and – courtesy of the Japanese sponsor Pique has helped to bring to the club – can now match anything he will receive elsewhere."
Barcelona did not have a corporate sponsor until 2011, when Qatar brokered a deal. From 2006 to 2011 the shirt carried the Unicef logo, but it was the club that paid the charity for the privilege. Before then the shirt was left blank, partly because of its significance to the Catalan independence movement.