BLOG ESPANA
Friday February 20 2015
Another scandal rocks La Liga

Already struggling with on-going scandals, Garreth Nunn looks at La Liga’s latest corruption allegations and asks if the League can fight another unwanted story.

It would not be too far off the mark to say that corruption and allegations are as much part of the Spanish game as ‘Galactico’ signings and tiki-taka football. February has been the month when the Premier League announced a new €6bn broadcasting deal that has attracted envious glances from all over the world. It was the type of deal that La Liga chiefs and clubs can only dream about and although it is hoped that one day Spanish clubs will enjoy the same riches as their English counterparts, there are more important things on the agenda.

Since Javier Tebas took the reins at the LFP, he has promised to try to clean up the Spanish game but it has been anything but easy. Unfortunately for a League that has an already somewhat blemished image, this week it announced that another investigation into match-fixing allegations was to take place.

Last year was one of scandal for La Liga. The headlines about the signing of Neymar, clubs’ unpaid tax bills, a court case involving two La Liga clubs accused of match-fixing and the death of a fan at the hands of another set of Ultras, were just a few of the headlines to surface and cause embarrassment for the League. When he ran for the LFP presidency, Tebas said that he had been informed of various cases of match-fixing. The Costa Rican, a former lawyer, promised a crackdown on corruption in the League and more transparency and some felt he was making some progress.

Yet, as the year came to an end, another potential scandal emerged and this week it was announced the League were investigating former top flight club Osasuna and had handed over paperwork to the Spanish Prosecutor to look into the Navarre side. The bad news for the League, this isn’t the only case that is been looked at by the Spanish judicial system and some feel it may not be the last.

A game that involved Real Zaragoza and Levante back in 2011 is still being looked into by the Spanish courts. Real Zaragoza has been accused of paying off Levante players to throw a game that would ensure their survival in the top flight. At the end of the month the court will start to hear evidence from those alleged to have been involved.

In March ex-players like the current Atletico Madrid captain Gabi, who admitted to receiving money from the club but quickly returned it, and Manchester United’s Ander Herrera are expected to give evidence. Both insist that they have done nothing wrong.

Another who will appear is former Coach Javier Aguirre. The ex-Atletico and Osasuna boss has become the first victim of the court case, even though he has yet to be found guilty or innocent.  He was recently relieved of his position as Japan Coach after the Japanese FA felt that the on-going trail was an unwanted distraction.

Even if Aguirre is proven innocent, as his recent sacking shows, the allegations do smudge one’s image. Just when he thought things couldn’t get any worse, another accusation involving one of his old clubs surfaces from when he was on the bench.

It was announced earlier this week that the penultimate League game of the 2013-14 season, involving Osasuna and Espanyol, is under investigation for match-fixing. At the end of 2014, an audit at Osasuna showed that just over €2m had been taken out of the club’s account in cash with no explanation given. The League started to look into it and the game that saw Osasuna and Espanyol draw, which meant Espanyol stayed up and Osasuna lived to fight another day, has raised more than a few eyebrows.

The club’s former President has been asked to explain the missing money and it was claimed the money was withdrawn to pay off loans to people not connected to the game. The club insist that no money went to buy results and the fact that they were relegated proves that. Yet still, the allegations have shocked many and forced more to come out publicly and defended themselves and their clubs.

Kiko Casilla and the Espanyol board have denied any wrongdoing and the goalkeeper has said that he noticed nothing strange on the alleged day in the dressing room. A draw was sufficient to keep them up for another season but the shot stopper claims that everyone was fighting for a win. In Pamplona they are saying the same.

The boardroom at Osasuna has been completely cleared out since last summer and the new board have promised to comply with the League but have also asked the authorities to take into account that those being accused are no longer at the club. The current President met the Press and has claimed that Tebas has promised that if the club co-operated they will not face punishment, only those involved would.

Yet, they are still nervous. After the statements the club were hoping to let the dust settle a little but they were in for a shock as another allegation would be made later in the week and it involved bribing players again.

Osasuna faced an already-relegated Real Betis on the final day of last season. Betis were down but would still have a major role to play in the relegation battle as they faced fellow strugglers Real Valladolid and Osasuna in their final two games. On Wednesday night, on Cadena Ser, an Osasuna director said that two players from Betis were paid off to win against Valladolid and offered more money to lose against Osasuna.

It was also alleged that both players were asked to ask if anyone else in the Betis dressing room would take part. The players being accused are Antonio Amaya and Jordi Figueras and on Cadena Ser they were accused by Angel Vizcay, an Osasuna director at the time, who claimed that he met with both players in Madrid and they were offered €250,000. Osasuna did win the game but still went down. Figueras is still at Betis but Amaya moved last summer to Rayo Vallecano and he has come out fighting.

“I didn’t meet with any executives from Osasuna. That’s a lie, I don’t know why you’ve called me,” he protested. “The team didn’t sell themselves out. I don’t know why I’m talking to you about this,” the defender added live on Cadena Ser after the allegations were made.

Figueras may still be keeping quiet but his club captain Jorge Molina has come out and defended his teammate and ex-teammate and so too have Betis. Vizcay has claimed that he has spoken to Tebas and recorded his statement but when pressed on what he exactly said, he dodged the topic on air and refused to go into detail.

The story has shook the League but the truth is that not many are surprised. Valladolid’s President has come out and said that corruption in the League is well known but only when the authorities stand up and face up to it will results be seen and a line can be finally drawn under it.

Some are claiming that La Liga has on it a band-aid that needs to be ripped off quickly and although it may hurt a lot now, it would mean things will heal better in the long run. Still, it is early days and the allegations have not been proven but the image of the League is once again tarnished Tebas faces even more pressure to try and clean it, a task that seems to get more and more impossible as the months roll by.

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