Explained | What is the latest scandal involving F.C. Barcelona?

Spanish football was rocked last month when it became public that Barcelona has paid millions of euros to possibly benefit from refereeing decisions for more than a decade.

Barcelona was paying a company that belonged to the vice president of the country’s refereeing committee.

The club has denied wrongdoing but is being widely criticised across Spain, and prosecutors on Friday formally accused the club of corruption.

Here’s a look at the latest scandal involving Barcelona, which surfaced as the club is still trying to recover from one of its worse financial crises and the departure of Lionel Messi.

What happened?

Prosecutors say Barcelona paid as much as €7.3 million ($7.7 million) from 2001-18 to the company of committee vice president José María Enríquez Negreira in amounts “not justified because they were not foreseen in the statutes of the club nor approved by its general assembly (of club members).”

The payments were allegedly made in exchange for technical reports on referees and youth players, though apparently in amounts above market prices.

Getting reports on referees is common practice and clubs can pay other companies or have them prepared internally, as Barcelona now does. But giving large amounts of money to the company of a person involved in the running of Spain’s referees for the reports is not a normal practice.

The payments were probed as part of a tax investigation into the company of Enríquez Negreira, a former referee who was on the Spanish Football Federation refereeing committee from 1994-2018, when the payments stopped. The committee is in charge, among other things, of choosing referees for each match.

There is so far no evidence that referees or game results were actually influenced during the period in which Barcelona made the payments.

Formal accusation

Prosecutors accused Barcelona of alleged corruption in sports, fraudulent management, and falsification of mercantile documentation.

The accusations are against Barcelona itself, Enríquez Negreira, former Barcelona presidents Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu, and former Barcelona executives Óscar Grau and Albert Soler.

Prosecutors said there was enough evidence to believe that Rosell and Bartomeu, who ran Barcelona in consecutive terms from 2010-20, “reached a confidential, verbal agreement” with Enríquez Negreira, who, “in exchange for money, was to carry out acts tending to favor Barcelona Football Club in the decision-making process of referees in the games played by Barcelona, and in the results of the competitions.”

Barcelona paid Enríquez Negreira’s company during different club presidents, including from 2003-10 under the first term of current president Joan Laporta, who again took charge in 2021. Laporta, however, is not being accused by the prosecutors and has denied any wrongdoing.

What Barcelona says

The club has denied wrongdoing or conflict of interest. It has acknowledged the regular payments to Enríquez Negreira’s company but said they were for only technical reports, not to try to influence refereeing decisions.

Barcelona has yet to fully explain its relationship with Enríquez Negreira. The club said it hired an independent firm to carry out its own investigation and is expected to give a more detailed account of what happened when that is concluded.

President Laporta said, “Barça is innocent of the accusations made against it and is the victim of a campaign, that now involves everyone, to harm its honorability.”

Enríquez Negreira told Cadena SER radio he never favored Barcelona while assigning referees to matches, and his job was to only aid the club verbally about how players should conduct themselves before each referee.

Bartomeu also denied wrongdoing and told ABC newspaper Enríquez Negreira had “zero power over referees.”

Barcelona coach Xavi said the matter was not affecting his players. The team was eliminated from the Europa League but remained in the semifinals of the Copa del Rey and in the lead of the Spanish league.

The accusers

The Spanish league, the country’s football federation and most clubs expressed their concern and intent to take action against Barcelona. They said the matter was damaging the reputation of Spanish football and sports in general.

Spanish league president Javier Tebas said Laporta should resign if he can’t properly explain the payments.

“I think this is the worst moment in Spanish football,” Tebas told Movistar on Monday. “It’s embarrassing that we still don’t have a convincing explanation by Barcelona.”

Madrid called for an urgent board meeting on Sunday and expressed its “utmost concern regarding the gravity of the facts” involving Barcelona. It said it would side against the rival in the legal proceeding to defend its “legitimate rights” as an “affected party” in the matter.

The Spanish government’s top sports authority also said it planned to take action. José Manuel Franco, president of Spain’s sports council, said on Monday on channel Telecinco, the government will join the other accusing parties in the legal proceedings. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez weighed in on the case, saying the government was waiting for the matter to be clarified.

The Spanish federation noted that Enríquez Negreira left the committee after the new administration took over in 2018.

Spain’s referees came out to publicly distance themselves from the relationship between Barcelona and Enríquez Negreira. Many former referees who were active at the time Enríquez Negreira was their vice president said they never received any pressure from him or other officials.

What next for the club?

An investigating judge will decide whether the accusations filed by the prosecutors should lead to charges.

Sporting sanctions against Barcelona were not considered initially because the statute of limitations on the possible irregularities had expired, but if the club is eventually convicted, it could possibly lead to a ban from competitions.

There was no immediate timetable on the next steps by the courts.

Watch | Data Point | World Cup 2022 score: Qatar and FIFA 1, human rights 0

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5 players who are most likely to win the Ballon d’Or in 2028

The Ballon d’Or award is widely regarded as the most prestigious individual accolade in football. First presented by French news magazine France Football in 1956, the award recognizes the standout male footballer deemed to have performed best over the previous season. In its current format, the top 100 journalists from FIFA’s top 100 nations cast their votes to determine the Ballon d’Or winner.

With 12 Ballon d’Or awards shared between them, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been the two brightest stars in the history of the award. Messi, with seven wins, holds the record for most Ballon d’Or wins, and by the looks of it, the World Cup winner could add another to his collection this year.

Brilliant as the pair are, even they cannot escape Father Time, meaning a new era is set to dawn sooner rather than later. Today, we will make a fun prediction of the post-Messi-Ronaldo era, check out which players could go on to win the award in the coming years.

Now, without further ado, let’s take a quick look at five players who could win the Ballon d’Or award five years from now, in 2028.

#5 Jude Bellingham

Borussia Dortmund v Sport-Club Freiburg - Bundesliga
Borussia Dortmund v Sport-Club Freiburg – Bundesliga

Borussia Dortmund’s 19-year-old central midfielder Jude Bellingham is one of the most sought-after players in the world right now. The England international, who is currently being chased by Liverpool and Real Madrid, could leave Dortmund in a big-money switch in the summer.

Bellingham is a gifted central midfielder who not only knows how to do damage higher up the pitch but can also hold down the fort. Bellingham has a penchant for scoring goals and his composure is beyond his years. Considering he picks the right club and continues his development, he could be one of the favorites for the 2028 Ballon d’Or.

Bellingham has scored 20 goals and provided 23 assists in 115 appearances for Dortmund in all competitions so far. In international football, he has one goal and two assists to his name in 22 games.

#4 Vinicius Junior

Real Madrid CF v Atletico de Madrid - Copa Del Rey Quarter Final
Real Madrid CF v Atletico de Madrid – Copa Del Rey Quarter Final

Real Madrid and Brazil winger Vinicius Junior has already become a superstar. The 22-year-old left-winger scored the winner in the 2022 Champions League final against Liverpool and finished in eighth place in the 2022 Ballon d’Or rankings.

In full flight, Vinicius Junior is a force to be reckoned with. He possesses blistering pace, has the innate ability to beat players in one-on-one duels, and works tirelessly from start to finish. For the Whites, Vinicius Junior has scored 49 goals and claimed 49 assists in 201 appearances across competitions. For Brazil, on the other hand, Vinicius Junior has scored twice and claimed two assists in 20 games.


Real Madrid and Brazil are two of the most ambitious teams in football and regularly find themselves competing for the biggest trophies. Considering the fact that winning the most prestigious accolades helps an individual greatly in the Ballon d’Or race, the odds are in Vinicius Junior’s favor to win the cherished award sooner rather than later.

#3 Pedri

Girona FC v FC Barcelona - LaLiga Santander
Girona FC v FC Barcelona – LaLiga Santander

Lionel Messi won six of his seven Ballon d’Or awards as a Barcelona player, with the club arming him with all the right ingredients to become an icon. Central midfielder Pedri could follow in Messi’s footsteps and bring the prestigious accolade to Camp Nou in the future.

At only 20 years of age, Pedri has already emerged as a natural leader in Barcelona’s midfield. He is confident with the ball at his feet, knows how to dictate the game’s tempo, has a knack for splitting defenses open with throughballs, and can also score. Since joining from Las Palmas in July 2020 (after a loan spell), Pedri has scored 15 goals and claimed seven assists in 102 games across competitions.

Pedri posted and deleted this story with a circle around his No. 8…He posted it after Barcelona went 8 points clear of Real Madrid 😅 https://t.co/Ba85mL5JjQ

With age on his side and great icons to learn from, Pedri has every right to fancy himself lifting the prized accolade in 2028.

#2 Erling Haaland

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City - Premier League
Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City – Premier League

The Ballon d’Or award has a knack for favoring goalscorers, and Manchester City goalmachine Erling Haaland is one of the best in the business. Only 22 years of age, the Norwegian has demonstrated lethal finishing in two of Europe’s top five leagues: Germany’s Bundesliga and England’s Premier League.

Before joining Manchester City for a €60 million fee in the summer of 2022, Haaland scored a staggering 86 goals in 89 appearances in the Bundesliga. The strong and pacey center-forward has caught England by storm, scoring 25 goals in only 20 Premier League appearances. He has already shattered a few important Premier League records, becoming the quickest to score 20 league goals (14 games) and four hat-tricks (19 games).

Erling Haaland is still running away with the Premier League Golden Boot ⚽️ https://t.co/p6MEy30F60

Considering he manages to keep injuries at bay, he could easily be posing with the prestigious Ballon d’Or award in 2028.

#1 Kylian Mbappe

SL Benfica v Paris Saint-Germain: Group H - UEFA Champions Leagu
SL Benfica v Paris Saint-Germain: Group H – UEFA Champions Leagu

Kylian Mbappe, 24, is already hailed as one of the best players in the world, chances are, he will only get even better in the coming days. The Frenchman has proven himself to be a model athlete and has shown admirable mental fortitude in the last few years, making him the most likely to win the Ballon d’Or in the future.

The PSG superstar, who won the Golden Boot after scoring eight goals at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, possesses blistering pace, is a competent creator, and a lethal finisher. Mbappe has already scored 36 goals and provided 23 assists in 66 appearances for his country. At PSG, he has bagged 196 goals and claimed 94 assists in 243 appearances across competitions.

If he manages to maintain his run of form and racks up a few important trophies, he could land a Ballon d’Or or two by the time 2028 comes around.

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Edited by Sushan Chakraborty

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Lionel Messi: 20 defining moments from his career so far

At just 17 years, three months, and 22 days old, Lionel Messi makes his official league debut for Barcelona, coming on as a substitute late in the game. against Espanyol. At the time, he becomes the youngest player to represent the club in an official game after joining the club’s famed La Masia academy in 2000, moving from Argentine club Newell’s Old Boys as a 13-year-old.

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