This is not an American process like one of these TV series, the judge tried to arbitrate in a courtroom in Pamplona in northern Spain. The former president of the Atlético Osasuna first-class club, Miguel Archando, had insulted the lawyer of the Spanish league. But as fictional as the trial may seem, its background is a major manipulation scandal in Spanish football.
The Spanish relegation battle of the 2012/2013 season was not for the faint of heart. Four games before the end, six clubs were six points apart, half of them would relegate. It was the moment when Osasuna was said to have made a concerted investment. With duels between relegation candidates and teams from the secured midfield, the weekend had interesting games in store. Osasuna is said to have paid Getafe, his own opponent, 400,000 euros so that he loses – as well as Betis Sevilla and Real Valladolid each 150,000 euros so that they beat Celta de Vigo and Deportivo La Coruña, respectively. All results came in, Osasuna was able to break away and ultimately held the class.
A year later, the traditional club from Pamplona was in a mess again. Four points from the last two games were needed, so the calculation obviously. Espanyol Barcelona is said to have been bought a draw for the € 250,000 on the penultimate matchday, meanwhile Betis should win again for € 400,000 against Valladolid and then be defeated by another € 250,000 on the last matchday by Osasuna. Again all games ended as supposedly agreed, but results in other places thwarted the plan. Osasuna descended anyway.
The descriptions are based on statements by the former club manager Ángel Vicay before a court in Pamplona. After years of investigations, originally triggered by an audit of the club accounts, the events of the 2013 and 2014 season finals have been put to trial this week.
Eleven men accused
Accused are Jordi Figueras, Xavi Torres, Antonio Amaya, three Betis professionals at the time, six ex-Osasuna officials and two real estate agents. At least 2.2 million euros should have been embezzled for game manipulation or attempts to cover it up later. The applications for custody are up to 14 years for Vicay or the then President Archando. At his first interrogations, this and other officials only confessed to the “motivation payment” to Betis for the victory against Valladolid.
Such bonuses are part of Spanish football folklore; a bit like Uli Hoeneß’s sausage trucks for successful Bayern rivals in Germany. Although they are actually prohibited, they do not have the same aftertaste as the intention to defeat on purpose. According to the customs, this is often informal, for example through agreements during the first half of the season – according to the motto: “In the second leg, the points for those who need them!” Or through short-term cash payments.
Worth mentioning is a game between Athletic Bilbao and UD Levante, which saved the hosts on the last day of the 2006/2007 season. Secret tapes of a conversation between the President and Captain of Levante suggested a year later that they had sold the match. At that time, Levante also played Luis Rubiales and José Francisco Molina, now President and Sports Director of the Spanish Football Association, who, according to the record, belonged to a group of professionals who resisted the postponement. Goalkeeper Molina was the best man with several saves, but could not prevent 0: 2; despite the valid contract, he ended his career after the game, apparently his silent form of protest. The match was not dealt with under criminal law.
Mammoth process about game manipulation
In the meantime, the league and the judiciary are pursuing dubious football events with greater commitment. A mammoth trial about the game between Real Zaragoza and – again – Levante from the last day of the 2010/2011 season ended shortly before Christmas with acquittal for 36 players: the evidence, the court said, did indicate a shift in favor of Zaragoza, that saved himself from relegation by winning back then; however, the evidence is insufficient.
Observers of Spanish sports fraud schemes may discover a well-known pattern in it. Extensive investigations – 2386 pages of investigation report in the Osasuna case – and long proceedings usually end with little to nothing, negotiations have been underway in the Osasuna case since 2015. The famous “Operación Puerto”, which uncovered the doping scandal surrounding the former cycling team doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, is a prime example in this respect: ten years after it started, it was archived in 2016 without legal consequences. Her legacy remains in police work, which threw a glaring light on doping in cycling – and in sports law proceedings that were subsequently conducted in other countries.
And this time? Today’s Osasuna – registered as a co-plaintiff – as well as Betis, Getafe and Espanyol, who are said to have been bribed, may have to fear something from Uefa; in Pamplona they are not on the dock. Meanwhile, the accused have contradicted each other so far. Ex-president Archando even theorized in the courtroom that an agreement in the relegation season had actually betrayed Osasuna, which had given rival Granada the saving victory in Valladolid on the last matchday and in which league president Javier Tebas was also involved be. “Cosi fan tutte”, everyone mumbles – that’s the argument. Your own offense can be quickly clarified as a preventive act.
It is quite entertaining in the hall. Probably also on Thursday, when the three Betis professionals are to be heard. The trial is scheduled for February 28.