FC Barcelona President Joan Laporta’s response came as no surprise.
In response to the corruption allegations against the club, the team’s most powerful figure made some allegations of his own.
“You can be calm,” the Catalan businessman told FC Barcelona fans direct, “Barça are innocent of the allegations against him and are the victims of a campaign now involving everyone to damage his honor.
“It’s not a surprise and we will defend Barça and prove that the club is innocent. Many will be forced to correct,” he added.
Laporta made the statement after prosecutors revealed that the club, along with two former presidents Sandro Rosell and Jose Maria Bartomeu, had been accused of corruption related to payments to former vice-president of Spain’s Referees Committee, Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira.
“Through Presidents Rosell and Jose Maria Bartomeu,” read a statement from the prosecutor’s office to the local press, “Barcelona have reached and maintained a highly confidential oral agreement with the accused Negreira, allowing him, in his capacity as vice-president of the Arbitration Committee and in exchange for money, he would carry out actions aimed at favoring Barcelona in referee decision-making in the club’s matches and therefore in the results of the competitions.
The sums at stake are said to amount to more than 7.3 million euros, which were paid between 2001 and 2018.
It’s not just the prosecutors that Barcelona have to worry about, La Liga president Javier Tebas has also expressed deep concern over the scandal and called for Laporta’s resignation if he was unable to adequately explain the situation.
Meanwhile, bitter rivals Real Madrid said they were ready to join the lawsuit “if the judge opens it up to the parties concerned”.
However, Barcelona’s denial is categorical.
“Barca never bought referees or influence,” Laporta said before the charges were brought, “that was never the intention and that has to be clear. The facts contradict those who try to tell a different story.”
This narrative from the President was consistent. Laporta has steadfastly maintained his innocence while hinting that a larger, more nefarious plan is at play.
“The latest report that Barca paid a referee for an investigation? It’s no coincidence that this information is coming out now when Barca are doing well,” was his reaction when the story first surfaced.
“Anyone who tries to smear Barcelona’s history and image will get a strong reaction,” he said after Tebas’ comments.
The references to “honor” and “image” show what must be a deeper frustration for the president, that whatever the outcome, it will be almost impossible to shake off this scandal entirely.
He knows that, especially in a social media age where baseless slander has spread like wildfire until it’s accepted fact in the eyes of the less discerning, such accusations are used to attack the club forever and ever.
In the tribalistic world of football fandom and in large parts of the administration, there is no such thing as “innocent until proven guilty”, but “each club for itself”.
Should Laporta need further proof of this, all he has to do is call one of his old managers from his early days at Barcelona, Ferran Soriano or ex-sporting director Txiki Begiristain, who currently runs Manchester City.
Manchester City ‘already convicted’
When Manchester City were indicted by the Premier League earlier this year over allegations related to financial misconduct, manager Pep Guardiola summed up the feeling at the club as to whether he was being treated fairly.
“My first thought is that we have already been convicted. We are fortunate to live in a wonderful country where everyone is innocent until proven guilty [but] we didn’t have that opportunity. We’ve already been convicted,” he told reporters.
It was clear that even a full acquittal would not change the damage done by the charges themselves.
As British newspaper journalist Andy Dunn admitted in a column for the Mirror: “Obviously, from a legal point of view, Manchester City CAN clear their name, but that won’t change the perception in some minds that the club did something wrong .”
Publicly, the club’s attitude is similar to that of Laporta. It is claimed that the truth will come out and those responsible for the unfair allegations must admit they were wrong.
“The Club welcomes the review of this matter by an independent commission to impartially review the extensive body of irrefutable evidence in support of its position. Therefore, we look forward to this matter being settled once and for all,” the oft-repeated statement said.
If events like this took place at the Premier League champions and La Liga leaders alone it would be remarkable, but in 2023 even the most dominant force in Italian football, Juventus, put up a fight to clear their name.
Juventus ‘unfair accusations’
In January, Juve were handed a 15-point deduction and the prospect of further legal sanctions over allegations related to their financial disclosures.
Juventus Chief Executive Officer Maurizio Scanavino took to the microphone to defend his team.
“We think this verdict is completely unfair,” he said, “we believe we are in a strong position and will continue on this path.
“Not only Juventus and our fans think this is an unfair decision. I must also thank supporters from other clubs, as well as people who have worked in football for a long time and famous faces on TV and social media, who have shown that they understand the unfairness and excessiveness of these decisions.”
The Italian giants are further frustrated that less well-informed players are confusing the current debacle with the 2006 Calciopoli scandal, which involved undue influence and improper relations with referees and saw the club relegated.
Fighting for your name given the current allegations and historical allegations is even tougher than the situation City and Barca are facing.
The obvious conclusion is that the sport will ultimately suffer from these allegations against its most powerful clubs, but the brutal truth is such scandals rarely diminish interest in the game.
Real Madrid, Liverpool or Inter Milan fans will feed off these allegations for decades, but for the casual observer or less tribal fan they fade into the background pretty quickly.
The injured leaders of Barca, City and Juve know that too. The football news cycle is immediate and all-consuming appearances a fortnight early are swallowed up by the ever-evolving agenda, not to mention complex allegations stretching back years.