Football’s European governing body, UEFA, has launched an official investigation into allegations that Barcelona made payments to a former vice-president of Spain’s referees’ committee. Spanish reports last month claimed that the Catalan club paid companies owned by Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira €7 million (£6.2 million) between 2001 and 2018. Negreira was the vice-president of the Spanish football federation’s refereeing committee from 1993-2018. The allegations may lead to corruption charges in court, and now their place in future Champions League competitions could be at risk.
Following Champions League rule change, UEFA can now ban teams from compepetion for one season if fixing is proven. As a result, UEFA ethics and disciplinary inspectors have been appointed to conduct an investigation into a potential violation of UEFA’s legal framework by FC Barcelona in connection with the so-called ‘Caso Negreira’.
Barcelona has previously denied wrongdoing and issued a statement saying they had paid an external consultant for “technical reports related to professional refereeing”, arguing that it was a common practice in the game. The club’s president, Joan Laporta, also said: “Barca have never bought referees nor influenced them. That was never the intention, and that has to be clear. The facts contradict those who are trying to tell a different story.”
However, the allegations have put Barcelona’s reputation at risk and could have serious consequences for the club. If UEFA finds evidence of wrongdoing, the club could face a one-year ban from the Champions League, one of the most prestigious competitions in world football. This would not only be a significant financial blow to the club but would also affect their ability to attract top players and could damage their global brand.
The investigation comes at a crucial time for Barcelona, who are currently 12 points clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga. Xavi, the former Barcelona midfielder, is closing in on his first title as a manager of his former club, and any punishment from UEFA could put an end to their hopes of a successful season. With UEFA’s investigation ongoing, it remains to be seen what the future holds for Barcelona and their place in European football.