Barcelona is on the edge of being banned from Uefa competitions



By Tony Attwood

According to reports that are starting to circulate internationally (see for example Forbes), Uefa corruption inspectors have recommended that Barcelona should be removed from the Champions League at least for next season, if not for three seasons, for their part in the ‘Caso Negreira’ referee payments scandal.  The source they quote is

However, it should also be noticed that immediately after the ABC article was published then reported that Barca denied that there are possible sanctions coming from Uefa which has simply requested more information to help with their investigation.

I think that is a little bit of straw clutching, personally, since although it is true that there are no sanctions pending at this moment, if Barcelona were to be found guilty in the Caso Negreira case they most certainly get wallopped by something in terms of punishment.  If they didn’t, then a complete walkout of the league by other major clubs would surely follow.  For how can a club that is found guilty of bribing referees continue in the Champions League unhindered?

Certainly it is true that some reporters such as Gerard Romero have added more, explaining that the investigators have sent a list of 71 questions for the club to answer.

However it now seems that the Barcelona provincial prosecutor’s office has charged Barcelona with “continued corruption”  in relation to payments made to the Technical Committee of Referees’ Ex-Vice President, Jose Maria Enrique Negreira.

According to El Mundo, Barcelona, are in severe financial difficulty having already sold 25% of their La Liga TV rights for the next 25 years to pay off existing debts.  They have also sold 49.% of their licensing and merchandising income in order to avoid FFP prosecutions for the 2021/22 season. Now it is alleged they paid Negreira approaching €7 million (£6.1 million) between 2001 and 2018.

What makes this even more interesting is that this time period includes the first Joan Laporta era from 2003 to 2010.  Not unexpectedly Laporta has denied that any wrongdoing saying the payments were made for consultation work.  Which of course could be possible as the consultation could be on how to bend the rules.   (Incidentally, can I say that I am available for consultation at half that price).

As a result of all this, Uefa has now announced that it will launch its own investigation because of a “potential violation” of its rules.   Mundo Deportivo [Sports World] has also reported that a decision from UEFA is “imminent” with a temporary ban from the Champions League one of the resolutions that are currently being debated.

And that story breaks just at the moment that Barcelona are saying that they want to sign Messi for next season.

Meanwhile, ABC has reported that investigators appointed by Uefa’s Ethics and Disciplinary Committee have concluded that Barca should be banned from playing in European competitions for a year.  Given the chaotic nature of the Barcelona accounts at the moment that could be a crippling decision for the club.

But possible relief is at hand, as under Uefa rules the final decision is that of Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin, who has recently been reported as being in meetings with Laporta.  Indeed it should be noted that Ceferin was in charge of the European final signed off on the arrangements for the Liverpool v Real Madrid final, then blamed the fans, and then offered compensation that has been called far too little.

Because of the wild and at time vacuous rule book under which Uefa operates, all power does indeed rest with Ceferin, meaning that he can simply accept the report of the inspectorate who recommend Barcelona should not be in the Champions League for 2023/24 or he could wait for the Spanish court to decide.  Or indeed he could find “exceptional circumstances” and allow Barcelona to stay in the competition.  (Apparently the cost of brown envelopes in Spain has gone up quite a lot of late, but I am sure there is no connection).

However, it’s a delicate balance both ways.  If Ceferin bans Barcelona now and the court then finds them innocent, Barcelona will joyously sue Uefa (remembering that Barcelona are still part of the Super League project which aims to run a competition without Uefa’s overlordship).

If Cerferin does nothing, and the court find Barcelona guilty, then Barcelona will be thrown out of the Champions League part way through – unless of course Uefa tries to overrule the court and make the punishment start the following season.

So Barcelona quite probably could see suing Uefa as their salvation, as they are so bankrupt now, that sort of court case, if won, could save them from extinction.   But extinction is getting ever closer for the club, as there is no realistic long-term model that can salvage the extraordinary debts they currently have.  Bloomberg for example state that Barcelona are currently paying $104m a year in interest alone just on the debts incurred in upgrading their stadium.

That is in addition to the €93 million they have lost from having to play home games in the forthcoming 2023/2024 season at the Montjuic Stadium while the work on their ground continues.  Or at least continues for as long as the contractors are paid.

It is as they say, a funny old game.


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