Arsenal could get their hands on a Champions League title and without having to win one. The Gunners returned to the Champions League this season after an impressive Premier League campaign, and they will be hopig to mount a serious challenge in UEFA’s premier competition.
But they may not need to come out on top this season to get their hands on their first ever Champions League title. That’s because of developments in Catalonia, where Barcelona face a serious legal situation over payments made to a football federation official.
It emerged earlier this year that Barcelona had made payments spanning 18 years to vice-president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation’s refereeing ‘technical committee’ José María Enríquez Negreira. The payments were made between 2001 and 2018, with the payments made to Negreira and his son’s companies, while they stopped soon after the Negreira left his position on the technical committee.
The payments have already been exposed and proven, but the nature of them has not yet been determined by the legal system, causing UEFA to delay any punishment until there is a verdict. The situation took another significant twist on Thursday, though, with Barcelona judge Joaquín Aguirre declaring that the case, which alleged bribery on Barcelona’s part, should be tried in criminal court.
After assessing the payments and the circumstances surrounding them, the judge decided that a jury should decide whether Barcelona and former club officials should be found guilty, and he took away two of their possible defence before the case begins. The judge determined that match fixing will not need to be proven in court, given results could have been influenced indirectly due to Negreira being in a position to score referee performances, thus determining whether they are promoted or relegated from games.
The judge also stated that if any other clubs have made similar payments, Barcelona’s case should not be dropped, and those clubs in question - shoud they arise - should be tried in criminal cases of their own. The decision to go ahead with the case in a criminal setting has been made on the basis that Negreira was serving in the RFEF and that meant he was serving in a public capacity.
This all concerns Arsenal because there is a possibility that, if found guilty, Barcelona could be stripped of titles, as Juventus were for match fixing after their 2004/2005 Serie A title. Other Italian clubs were also punished, including AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina, with Lazio banned from UEFA for a season.
La Liga could decide to deduct points from Barcelona, if they are found guilty, and they could also strip them of titles won during the 18-year period in question. Those titles would be awarded to the second-placed teams in those situations, and the RFEF could reaward the Copa del Rey to runners-up in the years Barcelona won it.
UEFA could also have a role to play, though, with Catalan Sports Court president Joan Maria Xiol telling the media earlier this year: “The possibility of a relegation [from European competitions] may occur. UEFA can judge facts that do not have international significance. If there is evidence of some irregularities, they can have the power to act. Also, on the list of sanctions is the possibility of losing trophies and being out of European competitions definitively,.”
Arsenal fans will want to pay attention to the case, and indeed any future punishment given they were beaten by Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final. If that trophy is reawarded, the Gunners could get their hands on their first ever Champions League title.
Of course, the game itself could not have been influenced by Barcelona, given Negreira did not hold a position within UEFA, but UEFA have shown willingness to punish clubs for domestic actions previously, and they have an open case surrounding this situation, delaying their decision over any punishment until a legal conclusion is reached.