PETE JENSON: Barcelona president Joan Laporta has come out fighting after the club were accused of paying referees to fix matches… his decisions have paid off on the pitch, but can he stay in his role amid this bribery scandal?
- Barcelona have been accused of paying referees to fix matches in the past
- Joan Laporta is under pressure despite making key signings this summer
- There have been calls for him to resign from his role over the bribery scandal
There’s never a dull day at Barcelona where president Joan Laporta can be hailed for fixing the finances, and urged to resign over the bribery scandal, all in the same day.
What kind of day will Sunday be? Well that depends on how Barcelona deal with Athletic Bilbao. If they win and go into next Saturday’s Clasico on good form then the mood will be good, until the next allegation drops of course.
Laporta claimed on Thursday that this is all a campaign against the club coming from dark forces in Madrid who want to destabilise the team that won LaLiga last season.
It’s certainly true that the investigating judge in the case against the club seems happy to disclose details of his process as he goes along, and that for now there is zero evidence Barcelona paid off referees to fix games. But it’s also undeniable that the club did pay Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira the sum of €7.3 million (£6.3m) from 2001 to 2018.
He was vice-president of the refereeing committee at the time with influence over which referees were promoted to officiate top games and which were demoted. ‘Logically’ (a word that the investigating judge has used on several occasions) it follows that everyone in Spanish football is finding it hard to believe the money was just for information reports on match officials as was originally claimed.
Barcelona president Joan Laporta has denied Barcelona paid referees to fix matches
The club paid Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira (left), £6.3m between 2001 and 2008, when he held the position of vice-president of the refereeing committee
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At first the club were being investigated for the crime of corruption but because Negreira worked for the Spanish Football Federation it’s now been suggested he could be considered a civil servant during the time payments were being made to him and that means Barcelona could be charged with bribery on the basis that they were allegedly buying favours from government officials.
Under bribery laws in Spain, if the case goes to trial, it will not be necessary to prove that influence was indeed rendered. It would only be necessary to prove that there was intent on the part of Barcelona to purchase that influence.
And whereas under the previous charge for corruption Laporta was very much off the hook because his first spell at the club fell outside the statute of limitations if the corruption charge changes to bribery he’ll be back on the hook because the statute of limitations is longer.
He has broad shoulders both literally and metaphorically and he says he’s not worried, principally because he doesn’t believe it will wash that Negreira was a civil servant and so the charge will remain one of corruption and not bribery. Corruption charges need proof and for all that the Spanish Police have searched the Federation offices they have found none.
Negreira once claimed Barcelona were buying neutrality. The implication of that remark was that Real Madrid already had some influence over the way Spanish football was refereed and Barcelona simply wanted their spoon in the pudding too.
Some fans are asking why Laporta quadrupled the payments to Negreira in 2009. He says it was because scouting work was also done by Negreira’s son and that Barcelona were paying the going rate.
Laporta has got a number of decisions right, including bringing in Xavi as manager to lead Barcelona to the Spanish title last season
Joao Felix (left) and Joao Cancelo (right) have both started well at Barcelona after Laporta signed them this summer
Many other Barcelona supporters don’t want the upheaval of a full-scale campaign against Laporta because many of his decisions are paying off. He backed Xavi as coach and Xavi won the league last season.
He put his faith in the club’s relationship with Jorge Mendes in the summer and Mendes worked his magic in the transfer market shifting Ansu Fati to Brighton to make room for Joao Felix and leaving money for Joao Cancelo – all his clients.
The two Joaos have been little short of sensational since arriving. Felix has scored three times and Cancelo twice and both have changed the way the team plays offering movement from their starting positions of left wing and right back that create space and chances for those around them.
‘If the two Joaos keep playing like this we will have to make an effort to sign them,’ Laporta said this week. It will be an effort too because although Barcelona have announced positive figures for the last financial year but they are bloated by one-off sales of assets such as part of the club’s production company, its merchandising wing, and future television revenue.
Laporta is holding his nerve for now, but there have been calls for him to resign
And ignoring these one-off windfalls almost 80 per cent of Barcelona’s revenue continues to be swallowed up by the club’s wage bill – a completely unsustainable situation.
Boosting revenue is essential but it’s hard to do that in the temporary 49,000 capacity Olympic Stadium.
The club desperate needs the Camp Nou to be finished on time ready for the start of next season. The demolition of the two upper rings is complete, so the €1.5bn (£1.3bn) rebuilding of the New Camp Nou can now begin.
It’s completion depends on financial backing and those backers don’t much like stories about bribery cases. But for now everyone is holding their nerve. Laporta knows better than anyone – that that will be easier to do if they hold on to their LaLiga crown too.
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