None of the 21 arbitrators and former arbitrators who testified as witnesses before the Civil Guard during the Negreira affair was able to clear up the big mystery: why did FC Barcelona pay 7.3 million to the former number two of Spanish referees, José María Enríquez Negreira, for almost two decades? Even if they can hardly know it, everyone has their own opinion, and many think that perhaps the leaders of Barça thought they could thus influence the development of the competitions. This is the main hypothesis of the investigators but, whatever the intention of the Barça club, the witnesses agree on the fact that the payments have in no way influenced their work or altered the results of the League or of the King’s Cup. “The influence is zero,” they say.
The issue of match-fixing has been repeated by Civil Guard interrogators in commands across Spain, where last summer they collected referees’ statements on the orders of the Barcelona judge in charge of the investigation. “From what I understand from the world of football, it is impossible that payments can influence,” said Mateu Lahoz of Valencia, who was not renewed in 2021 and is unemployed, according to his statement. Lahoz gave an example: his own. “I was faced with situations that were difficult to referee, which sometimes benefited this or that club. The former referee recalled a particularly controversial decision, on the last day of the 2013-14 League, when Atlético and Barça were playing for the title. “I decided to disallow Messi’s goal when I realized the ball had hit his teammate Cesc.”
Last September, Judge Joaquín Aguirre ordered the search of the offices of the Technical Committee of Arbitrators (CTA) in Las Rozas (Madrid) and decreed the secrecy of the summary (which he has now lifted) to carry out a series of procedures. In their statements, to which EL PAÍS had access, the referees agree that they learned of the relationship between Barça and the former vice-president of the CTA through the press, and they regret “the damage caused to the prestige” of the group ” and to Spanish football,” said Jesús Iturralde González, another of those interviewed. A First Division referee until 2012, Iturralde believes that the millions of dollars paid by Barça “were used to enrich the leaders” of the club and considers it absurd that this money could actually be used to fix matches. “It is not about buying referees, because what Barcelona paid is not enough to pay 20 referees,” he said. he adds.
Negreira served as vice-president of the CTA, the judges’ governing body, between 1994 and 2018. Some of the referees who reported him considered him one of “their bosses”, a dark character, with whom they had very little contact, which they reported at the end of the season on promotions and demotions. Witnesses denied that Negreira had the ability to influence the appointment of arbitrators and claimed that the person who made the really important decisions was the president, Victoriano Sánchez Arminio. Former referee Sergi Albert, one of the most veteran of the 21 interviewed, is one of the few who disagrees. He believes that Negreira had “control over the appointment of informers (who evaluate referees during matches), scores, promotions and relegations of referees”. Albert recalls a call he received from Negreira when, in the mid-90s, he retired to become a television commentator: “Hey chicken, who do you think you are, pay attention to the comments that you do, something could happen to you.” “.
Albert emphasizes the first step: the first documented payments date from 2011, during the mandate of Joan Gaspart, although they could be earlier. “There are people in the club, Joan Gaspart, Antón Parera and Josep Contreras, who decide to allocate funds for a goal that I do not know,” says the referee, who sees a clear “economic interest” in the Negreira. case. In his statement, he said he knew Negreira was selling “promotional items” to the RFEF and some regional federations, although he was unaware he was receiving payments from Barca. The former referee revealed something that other witnesses also corroborated: he and especially his son, Javier Enríquez, accompanied the referees who whistled in the stadiums of Catalonia (not just at the Camp Nou) and acted as drivers between the hotel and stadium. Jon Núñez Fernández, Primera referee since 2007, says he has refereed a dozen times at the Camp Nou and that Javier Enríquez accompanied him. “He contacted the referee a few days before. I met him at the hotel, we had a drink, we talked about trivial things or about football, but about unimportant comments, and he took us to the field”, says the referee, also totally convinced of his innocence and that of his teammates: “It is very difficult to convince a professional referee to corrupt the competition.” Some, like Santiago Jaime Latre, were somewhat forced to let themselves be escorted to the stadium locker room tunnel (“I couldn’t refuse this offer because I was the boss’s son”), others “couldn’t didn’t even consider it a bad thing,” and a few refused. After the scandal broke, the RFEF sent a letter to the referees to avoid these practices.
Negreira received 7.3 million from Barça for alleged consulting work that was never accredited; His son, Javier Enríquez, also received remuneration from the club, but for technical reports on the behavior of referees. There is a paper trail of these reports. All the referees who testified before the Civil Guard knew the father-son relationship between the two. And they believe that it is for this reason that Javier Enríquez – also accused in the case – managed to participate, as coachin the concentrations organized by the CTA for the training of referees.
There are disagreements about the usefulness of these talks; Some considered them evil and useless, but others loved them so much that they resorted to their services as coach staff. This is the case of David Medié Jiménez, promoted to the First Division in 2017 and who was until recently a VAR referee. During sessions lasting just over an hour at his home in Esplugues, Enríquez helped him with the “psychological preparation” of the matches for an amount of between 150 and 200 euros.
Some CTA officials, like Díaz Vega, “did not like that Javier participated in the activities”, as stated by Daniel Ocón Arraíz, first division referee since 2016, who also has no answer on the payments of the Barca. “It could be a scam, or a smoke sale, or someone being used to take money and return it to other managers. But it’s a personal opinion,” said Ocón, who added that these payments “in no case” can influence the competitions, one of the big questions in the Negreira case. Even if the crime of corruption in sport does not does not require that preferential treatment be consumed (the intention, materialized by payments, is sufficient), it is relevant from a sporting and institutional point of view. Above all because Barça could not explain, at the beyond the work of Javier Enríquez, why he paid the number two referees between 2001 (during the era of Joan Gaspart) until 2018, when Josep Maria Bartomeu ended this practice and unleashed anger (and threats ) by Negreira.
These statements constitute a sort of intra-history of Spanish arbitration in recent years. Most recognize the existence of the “fridge”, a system by which a referee was temporarily expelled when he had performed particularly poorly. David Medié assured that the severity of this sanction varied depending on whether it affected large or small clubs but above all “depending on the noise generated by the media”.
Former CTA president destroyed papers
During the entry and search of the CTA headquarters on September 28, agents searched for documents on the operation of the organization. The officers encountered an unexpected situation and recorded it in the report, which is also included in the summary. CTA Deputy Director Antonio Rubinos “spontaneously” told agents that it was possible that “some documents would not be found.” And he explained further: in May 2018, the day Victoriano Sánchez Arminio (former president of the Council of Arbitrators) left office, “he spent at least 2 or 3 hours in the paper shredder to eliminate documents.” Rubinos assured that he knew because he had done it in front of him. However, the manager did not provide further information on the reasons that led Sánchez Arminio to delete these documents or on the content of the deleted elements.
Subscribe to continue reading
Read without limits