A shocking news report revealed that FC Barcelona paid €1.4 million to the former vice president of Spain’s referees committee between 2016 and 2018.
On Wednesday, an exclusive report by Spanish outlet Cadena SER came out detailing FC Barcelona’s under-the-table monetary payments to a company owned by José María Enríquez Negreira, who was at the time a La Liga referee and vice president of Spain’s Technical Committee of Referees.
The payments, which total €1.4 million, date from 2016 to 2018.
None of them were invoiced.
Then-Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu responded to the report stating that the payments were legitimately made and ultimately stopped due to the club’s decision to cut costs.
Bartomeu noted that the payments started as early as 2003 and denied any wrongdoing regarding the corrupt allegations.
Negreira recently testified and claimed Barca never received preferential treatment in La Liga games during his time as a referee.
Instead, he said the payments were for his “advisory work” in which Negreira educated players on appropriate referee conduct.
All of Negreira’s received payments appear to be off the books as Negreira has been unable to produce any document as proof of his individual services for the club.
FC Barcelona referee payment allegations are a nasty blemish on the club’s integrity
Barcelona has since released a statement confirming that the club “contracted the services of an external technical consultant” and that the said consultant provided services considered “a usual practice in professional football clubs.”
In the wake of these payment allegations, Barcelona could face severe consequences including docked points or even relegation from La Liga.
Barcelona head coach Xavi Hernandez briefly addressed the reports, which came out a day before Barca faces Manchester United in the first leg of the Europa League.
In a pre-match press conference, Xavi defended the club and said: “I try to focus on football, but this club has these kinds of stories too. I’ve been told we have done a public statement, and I follow what the club says. I think it has happened in years I was not involved with the club, but I will always defend the institution.”
Xavi, who was hired as the club’s head coach in 2021, left Barcelona for Al-Sadd back in 2015 and has no direct connection to the referee payments.
It’s difficult to tell at this stage whether Barcelona will be penalized, though the allegations don’t seem as severe as a 2006 match fixing scandal in which Juventus was found guilty of bribing referees and was subsequently relegated to Serie B.
Still, the reports couldn’t have come at a worse time and has many around the league questioning Barca’s integrity during a pivotal period in the season.
Heading into their Europa League group stage fixture against Manchester United on Thursday, Barca currently sit at the top of La Liga with a double-digit lead and are cruising on a 11-game win streak.