You’ve heard that guy at the other end of the bar. It’s impossible to miss, given the volume, and sincerity with which that particular message is always delivered. It’s always along the lines of, “These refs are in the bag!” Here in Chicago, it’s pronounced more like, “Dese jagbag refs are in da baaag!” Whatever the local dialect, you know the decree.
And let’s face it. We’ve all felt the same way at various times. For me, personally, I’m still sure that the strike zone for Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright extended from one dugout to the other and as long as Wainwright managed to keep the ball below the pressbox, it would be called a strike. From the years 1996 or 2009 I was convinced there was a big red button in the NHL offices marked “Make Detroit Win” that Bettman or an underling would hit whenever the Wings needed a power play late in a game (though right after that most would argue that “Wings” was scratched out and replaced with “Hawks” but I don’t know much about that). Every NFL ref had some sort of probe inserted into their ear (or worse) that would go off and involuntarily make them throw a flag for pass interference whenever Aaron Rodgers needed it. Ditto Premier League refs from the beginning of my soccer fandom until Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement whenever United needed a penalty or another minute of injury time. In my mind, these are irrefutable truths.
And these feelings will only be steeled, as will every other fan’s personal beliefs about the way they’re getting screwed, by the news today that Barcelona is being charged with actually bribing referees. Every La Liga fan is nodding their head today, screaming, “Lo sabía!”
This is the continuation of a story that broke over the winter and extended to now. The club has been investigated for its relationship with Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, who was vice president of the refs’ association in Spain at the time of payments made to businesses owned by him by Barcelona, totaling $7.8 million. Essentially, yesterday a Spanish court added the charge of bribery to charges that were already made against Barca, and Negreira. Obviously, bribery comes with harsher sentences, and penalties should it be proven.
Earlier this month, the Civil Guard in Spain that was investigating the case concluded that referees under the watch of Negreira, and his boss Victoriano Sanchez Arminio weren’t “always unbiased.” Boy, that sounds pretty incriminating. The offices of the RFEF, who are having a banner few months, were also raided looking for evidence in the case.
UEFA barely let Barcelona into this year’s Champions League due to the charges and investigation into their relationship with Negreira, and seems pretty itchy to toss them out on their ass should anything else develop. Well, something else developed, and though it would be earth-shattering to see UEFA boot them from this year’s edition after it’s already started, it’s not an impossibility.
Even if the ban were to take place starting next season, the results could be utterly disastrous for Barcelona. The club is already barely hanging on financially, some would say that the only reason it appears to be hanging on is some funny math and accounting, and lever-pulling (both literally and figuratively, if you catch our drift), and is a stiff breeze from being in serious trouble. Were it robbed of Champions League money in the near future, which sure looks to be coming down the pike, there’s no telling how damaging it could be. Certainly, a huge cut in the playing staff would be the minimum, and going bust completely is hardly far-fetched. Needless to say, this is a major balls-up.
Barca claim that they merely paid Negreira for consulting and reports on officials, which they say is pretty common. Still, there are millions of dollars transferred from Barca to Negreira’s and his son’s businesses, which never gets anywhere near passing the smell test.
It’s hard to believe that every fan’s deepest shared belief, one that with no one around we’d always admit was just lunacy, might actually be coming true. Every penalty or foul or red card that fans screamed from the stands or at their TVs as proof that something was afoot even if it was drenched in partisanship is now…the truth? Even possibly the truth? There could be an unseen hand operating these games all of a sudden?
Woe to the republic.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @Felsgate.bsky.social
Original source here
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