MADRID (AP) — The days of a healthy rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid are over.
What used to be a cordial relationship between the Spanish powerhouses has turned ugly following the latest scandal involving Barcelona over payments to a former refereeing official.
Neither club is holding back, and there is no hiding the relationship has been strained.
“It’s damaged,” Barcelona president Joan Laporta said. “We have had an harmonious institutional relationship with all clubs, including Madrid. The ‘clasico’ is the greatest spectacle in the world and there is always an intense rivalry. But to me, the institutional relationship has been harmed because of them.”
The clubs have been trading direct attacks ever since it became public that Barcelona had paid more than 7 million euros ($7.6 million) over several years for refereeing reports produced by the company of a former vice president of the country’s refereeing committee.
Barcelona was formally accused by prosecutors of alleged corruption in sports, fraudulent management and falsification of mercantile documentation, and Madrid was among the entities that decided to take part in the legal proceedings. The team expressed its “utmost concern regarding the gravity of the facts” and said it was an “affected party” in the matter.
Barcelona has denied it tried to influence referees with its payments, and Laporta said Monday in his first news conference to explain the club’s actions that it was “an unprecedented exercise in cynicism” for Madrid to say it was harmed by referees during Barcelona’s most successful era.
“Everyone knows that Real Madrid is a club that is historically favored by refereeing decisions, and continues to be now,” Laporta said. “It’s a club that has been known for being the club of the regime, because of its proximity to those in power politically, economically and in sports.”
Laporta claimed that for seven decades the top refereeing officials in the country were linked to Madrid.
“For 70 years, those in charge of making sure that there was justice on the field were either former members or players or officials from Madrid,” he said in one of the harshest attacks yet by Barcelona.
Madrid didn’t stay quiet, and late Monday published a video on its television channel and social media accounts refuting Laporta’s claims.
Using images from Laporta’s news conference and past footage of events related to Barcelona’s history, Madrid linked the rival club to former dictator Gen. Francisco Franco, including during the inauguration of Camp Nou Stadium. The video of more than four minutes ended with the question, “What was the team of the regime?”
The Catalan government called the video “fake news” and asked Madrid to apologize and remove it from its sites.
“It’s irresponsible, an offense and an insult to the thousands of people who suffered during the Franco regime, as well as to Barcelona and to the club’s president at the time, Josep Suñol, who was shot by the regime, which is something that perhaps Madrid forgot,” Catalan government spokeswoman Patrícia Plaja said.
Barcelona and Madrid have always had a fierce rivalry on the field, but enjoyed a mostly healthy relationship institutionally over the years. There used to be an unspoken pact of no aggression between the clubs, including when it comes to recruiting players in youth squads or in issues related to the Spanish soccer federation and the Spanish league. They have been partners in the attempt to create the Super League, and were still working together to try to get the project launched.
Laporta said the now-strained relationship between the clubs should not affect the Super League project.
“Barcelona is not involved in the Super league because of other clubs,” he said. “We are involved because we think it’s important for the sustainability of European soccer.”
Laporta said he believed Madrid president Florentino Pérez, who didn’t attend the last two “clasicos” at Camp Nou, has been “under a lot of pressure by Madrid fans.” Still, he said he believed Madrid should have waited longer before deciding to take part in the legal proceedings against Barcelona.
On the field, the teams faced each other five times this season, with three victories by Barcelona and two by Madrid, including a 4-0 rout of the Catalan club at Camp Nou in the second leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals.
Barcelona beat Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in the first leg of the Copa del Rey, and also in the Spanish Super Cup final in Saudi Arabia. It also won in the final Spanish league game between the clubs in a result that allowed the Catalan club to take a big step toward winning the title. It has an 11-point lead over Madrid with nine games remaining.
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