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La Liga in the bag, but Barcelona still face huge problems

BARCELONA – Barcelona may have won the La Liga title on Sunday, but their outstanding domestic campaign has been somewhat overshadowed by turmoil off the pitch including deepening financial problems and a refereeing scandal that could drag on for years.

Their first league title since 2019 was secured via a 4-2 away win at local rivals Espanyol, with around 100 home fans invading the pitch as Barcelona players sprinted down the tunnel to safety after the match.

Off the field, it has been similarly chaotic for Barca. Spanish prosecutors in March filed a complaint over alleged payments Barcelona made from 2001 to 2018 totalling €7.3 million (S$10.6 million) to firms owned by former refereeing official Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira. A Barcelona court has agreed to take on the case.

Also in March, European football’s governing body Uefa opened its own formal investigation into the club, looking into the same payments. The club has denied any wrongdoing, saying that it paid an external consultant who supplied it with “technical reports related to professional refereeing”, something many clubs do.

But Enriquez Negreira was the vice-president of the refereeing committee of the Spanish Football Association – one of the highest refereeing officials in the country – from 1993 to 2018, covering the entire period concerned.

Barcelona are already facing huge accounting problems related to their massive wage bill, to the Covid-19 pandemic and to the club’s €1.6 billion renovation project. Restricted by La Liga’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, Barca were unable to re-sign club great Lionel Messi, who left as a free agent for Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2021.

According to La Liga, Barca are still about €200 million over the cap and remain unable to register new contracts signed months ago with defender Ronald Araujo and midfielder Gavi, both of whom are key players.

Crashing out of European competition early this season dealt another blow to the club’s finances, which are so fragile the board has pulled several levers including selling stakes in its TV rights and media divisions to try to balance the books.

The club will also leave its iconic but outdated Camp Nou stadium for the next few seasons as it starts its hugely expensive renovation project, reducing the club’s matchday revenue.

Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez, however, insisted the title win was “vital for the stability of the project”. He told Movistar Plus: “Winning it was vital for the stability of the project, we must continue on this path.

“This league means that we are doing things very well, this gives us stability, although we still have the unfinished business of European competition.”

In this season’s budget, Barcelona’s board boldly predicted that the team would reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League, and bring in plenty of related income. Instead, they crashed out at the group stage and were then knocked out of the Europa League by Manchester United. REUTERS, AFP