There are two sides to Football Club Barcelona.
One is a stylish soccer team charging toward its first league title in four years. The other is under investigation over payments to an ex-referee. One is a club with lofty ambitions. The other is hoping everything doesn’t fall apart.
European governing body UEFA is about to look into the Negreira case—in which Barcelona paid former refereeing vice president Enriquez Negreira and his company DASNIL 95 in various installments between 2001 and 2018, with the total figure allegedly reaching €8.4 million ($9.1 million), according to some reports. Its president Joan Laporta has since denied any corrupt dealings on Barcelona’s part. Not only that, he’s even suggested there is a campaign against the Catalan club.
Barcelona will be anxious, though. If UEFA concludes that it acted unlawfully, it could suffer harsh sporting and financial penalties. These may include a season-long ban from the Champions League, heavy sanctions, or both. Meanwhile, there are other potential implications for Barcelona and the European game entirely.
A Blaugrana breakdown
The case hangs over Barcelona’s tangible on-field progress this campaign. And exclusion from a top-level European tournament—which Barcelona must start fighting to win—would mark a step back in coach Xavi’s project, which is close to bringing rewards.
Barcelona will search for names in the transfer market to strengthen the roster this summer. However, finding the necessary funds will likely depend on whether it can activate more economic levers, especially if the board struggles to offload players from the wage bill. Of course, any sanctions would make a tricky operation even trickier.
Not being able to offer Champions League involvement to suitors would also take its toll. While the side has performed admirably in La Liga, it will need more support moving forward, particularly for 34-year-old striker Robert Lewandowski. Playing top-billing fixtures is an irreplaceable advertisement for prospective stars who can further shape the team’s future.
Lastly, the whole affair impacts its brand. Barcelona is already an iconic, exceptional brand, but its growing reliance on high-profile commercial deals and selling club shares to help balance the books means it cannot afford too much bad press. Its lucrative shirt and stadium sponsorship with Spotify runs until 2026—by which point, escaping further chaos is a must.
La Liga has a problem
Spain’s La Liga has a real dilemma, too. To boost the division, its president Javier Tebas wants a successful Barcelona. But he needs an innocent Barcelona even more.
In short, the league can’t win, as it’s now up to other sporting bodies to investigate the matter. And while nothing is conclusive at this stage, Barcelona’s recent past—including worrying debt—has left Tebas with headaches before.
If necessary, Tebas will take firm action. The league has a reputable front regarding finances, dictating teams’ budgets and tracking their financial moves to create a sense of fairness and transparency. And the president has not been afraid to point the finger before, whether it’s clubs desiring an elitist Super League or Paris Saint-Germain’s financial clout.
And yet, payments to Negreira—allegedly assisted by previous Barcelona presidents Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu—have overlapped with Tebas’ tenure. On this basis, the boss must assess how La Liga deals with the club. Progress may involve some reform on both sides.
Rayo Vallecano’s European dream
Away from the Barcelona melodrama, there are possible knock-on effects further down the league standings. The relevant teams range from Athletic Club in sixth down to the mid-table.
Should UEFA expel Barcelona from its continental competitions next season, this would theoretically allow other top-tier sides to enter the picture (Spanish). One such team is Rayo Vallecano, a modest local club from Madrid and one of the least affluent participants in La Liga.
With next to no European experience, clubs like Rayo and Osasuna will look to capitalize on any potential developments. Entry into the UEFA competitions would also provide a welcome financial boost to these clubs. That would, at least, shake up the status quo in Spain.