Spain’s Clasico is one of the world’s biggest sporting occasions, pitting giants Barcelona and Real Madrid head-to-head, but the build-up to today’s La Liga clash has been overshadowed by “Caso Negreira”.
Barca have been charged with corruption by Spanish prosecutors for payments between 2001 and 2018 to the company of former refereeing chief Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, totalling around €7.3mn ($7.8mn).
The club say they were paying for reports and advice on refereeing but prosecutors have accused the club of seeking to gain favourable decision-making from officials.
Charges were filed last week against Barcelona, former vice president of Spain’s refereeing committee (CTA), Negreira, and two former Barcelona presidents, Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu, among others.
Although La Liga leaders Barcelona can virtually clinch the title if they beat second-place Real Madrid today to move 12 points clear, headlines remain dominated by the Negreira case, with tensions rising around Spain.
In the first round of fixtures after Barcelona were charged last weekend, at various stadiums there was a form of protest against the supposed corruption scandal.
It was clearest in the Basque country, where Xavi Hernandez’s side faced Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
Supporters threw mock money onto the pitch with “mafia” printed on it, along with Barcelona’s club emblem.
“I was surprised at the hostile atmosphere towards Barca, it was sad to see,” said Xavi after his team’s narrow 1-0 win.
“(Barca) are being judged prematurely, which I don’t think is good for society.”
After Barcelona’s payments to Negreira’s company were unearthed in February, the club responded quickly and denied any wrongdoing.
President Joan Laporta said the club had ordered an external investigation and would provide answers as quickly as they could.
However, they have not scheduled a news conference to answer questions on the issue and their silence has been criticised by La Liga president Javier Tebas.
“Yes (It’s the worst moment) that I remember,” Tebas told Movistar channel Vamos on Tuesday. “The problem that we have is the worst. There are payments recognised by Barcelona to the vice-president of the CTA, that’s something abnormal.
“It’s understandable that tension is generated.
“The reputation of our football is at stake. I am ashamed. We have no explanation from Barcelona.”
Laporta did speak at a lunch event with the Equestrian Circle in Barcelona and said there was a “campaign” to damage Barcelona’s interests.
“Let it be clear Barca have never bought referees and Barca have never had the intention of buying referees, absolutely never,” said the president.
FC Barcelona’s players attend a training session at the Joan Gamper training ground in Sant Joan Despi on the eve of the ‘El Clasico’ clash against Real Madrid. (AFP)