On Thursday, March 23, UEFA announced that they would open an investigation into Spanish soccer team FC Barcelona, and what has become known as the “Negreira Case.” The announcement is huge for Spanish soccer and sports in general, and could have dire consequences for the club. UEFA’s decision comes after the case was recently made public, and La Liga, the Spanish soccer league, issued an official statement about the incident. “This is not good for Spanish sport,” said the president of the Spanish Superior Sports Council.
The Negreira Case
The Negreira Case was opened back in May of 2022, but went public in February. It began as the Spanish tax commission was investigating a company called DASNIL 95 due to suspicious payments it had received. This company is owned by Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, the former Vice President of the Refereeing Committee of the Spanish Football Association. After investigating further, the commission found where these payments came from, and that DASNIL 95 was only the beginning. Records showed that between 2001 and 2018, renowned soccer club FC Barcelona paid 7.3 million euros to different companies owned by Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira. The club handled payments directly to the Vice President of the refereeing committee, which ended the same year that Negreira left the association.
Spanish officials claim that the money was for a “secret agreement” where referees would favor Barça during their games. As such, they allege that the payments were used to “influence results,” according to Reuters. Five La Liga and FC Barça officials are being prosecuted for the offenses, including Negreira himself. The charges include corruption in business, corruption in sports, false administration and falsification of commercial documents. In addition, a package addressed from DASNIL 95 to Barça was sent to the office before every Spanish league game. Its contents were a DVD and a report with the upcoming referee’s description. Negreira denied the existence of the envelope, but his son, director of one of the companies involved, testified that it had been real.
FC Barcelona’s response
Yet, Barça has viciously defended itself against the claims. Most officials deny any wrongdoing, with one anonymous official saying that the investigation was an “absolutely preliminary investigative hypothesis.” They explain that the payments were to a consultant for “technical reports,” according to Reuters. Before Barça’s game against Real Madrid on March 19, the club’s president Joan Laporta said that they would defend themselves against the accusations if need be. Then, on March 22, the club filed five different lawsuits against journalists, with alleged plans to file more. Laporta said that the allegations were “a campaign to destabilize the team and control the club.” Even Barça legend and current trainer Xavi Hernandez was questioned relentlessly, eventually saying that he did not think they were favored by the refs. “If it had been that way, I would’ve gone home,” he explains.
Potential consequences of the scandal
UEFA opening their investigation will change the club’s prospects dramatically. Previously, Javier Tebas of La Liga had explained that too much time had passed since the incident. Therefore, the law prohibits sporting sanctions from being placed on the team. However, either the international soccer association UEFA or FIFA stepping in would create an exception to that law. Tebas announced that UEFA had asked for the case facts on March 15, and the Football Association announced their investigation a week later. This means that Barça could be banned from UEFA’s Champions League for a year, one of the largest soccer competitions in Europe.
During the 2001-2018 period of the payments, Barça won four Champions League competitions and 10 league titles. The timeframe also includes the 2008-2009 FC Barcelona season, widely regarded as their best ever and one of the best for any team in the world. If the allegations are true, the repercussions on the team as well as Spanish sports could be drastic.
Cover image by: Alejandro García from El Confidential