They were an icon against fascism, a club representative of a people, more than any national identity could ever be. We saw commonalities between Barcelona and our own heritage. While we did what we could to earn a seat at the top table, they packed out the biggest club stadium in Europe and were invariably second, third, or sometimes first in the football money league.
Catalan prosecutors have revealed that over a 17 year period, Barcelona paid €8.4m to the former vice-president of the Spanish refereeing committee, Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, and his company. The payments are not disputed, the former referee VP, claims the club employed him to ensure fairness.
He said, “I saw [Barcelona presidents] at most six times a year so they were calm that there were no decisions against FC Barcelona in the arbitration committee, that everything was neutral.” The club claim they paid the money for Negreira to compile video reports to compliment information required by coaching staff.
Former Barcelona presidents, Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu, face corruption charges, the former recently spent two years in prison on separate charges before being acquitted on appeal. The club’s current president, Joan Laporta, has not been indicted, although the story has a long way to run.
Compared to what happened in Scotland – disguised renumeration and undisclosed contracts to dodge taxes and gain a sporting advantage, paying millions to a referee chief – even if you accept either parties’ version of events, is on a different level. Perhaps only Juventus can compete with what for so many of us was an iconic bastion of goodness in the game.
Although corruption exists in football, it is rare to see payments directly between parties who should never have such commercial dealings. More commonly, this type of payment would go through a third party. The industry is a heady environment for ambitious lawyers, who make up a sizeable portion of the players’ agent industry. They commonly invoice significant fees to club and can easily pay equally significant fees out for other professional services.
You may know it goes on, but even if you had all the paperwork, proving what happened was something sinister can be impossible. Which is why this is so shoddy, lazy, even. It is time for us to stop pretending modern sport is some bastion of 19th century ethical endeavours and accept that law breaking, organised crime and plain old bias cannot reach our fields. To believe otherwise does our athletes and the paying customer a disservice.