José María Enríquez Negreira, with the ball in his hand, during a match between Real Madrid and Atlético in 1990.EFE
When his former colleagues José María Enríquez describe Negreira, derogatory adjectives, nicknames with well-known hustlers and the claim that in his position as vice-president of the Spanish Technical Committee of Referees (CTA), he never had enough clout to influence referees in La Liga are the order of the day. The millions of euros that his company Dasnil received from FC Barcelona for alleged technical advice on refereeing matters has provoked as much outrage as perplexity in the world of Spanish football surveillance.
“I’m surprised and embarrassed that anyone is using the referee establishment to sell smoke and mirrors. Negreira had nothing to do with it, he was not involved in the referee appointments. He sells snake oil and someone bought it,” said Antonio Jesús López Nieto, a former referee and member of the committee responsible for assigning match officials.
“He is a pitcher; Without having a relevant role as a referee, he took advantage of his situation. I saw him as one of those guys who are in the [Spanish soccer] association to travel and talk other people off,” recalls a former association employee. “He never speaks and when he does he only says three words: Mercedes, Chivas and Davidoff,” legendary sports presenter and journalist Alfonso Azuara once said of Negreira.
Negreira’s reputation falls somewhere between the murky reputation of allegedly being involved in sports corruption, or the protagonist of a prankster punctuated by the serious conflicts of interest and ethics that pose the billing of services to FC Barcelona as a member of the CTA. What the investigations carried out by the prosecutor’s office need to clarify is whether Negreira manipulated the will of match officials or whether he was a fraud who led the Camp Nou hierarchy between 2001 and 2018 to believe that his rise via league referees was FC Barcelona guaranteed. As he said in a statement to the tax authority, “no decisions were taken against them” during matches and the club was treated “neutrally” on the pitch.
“That is the incompetence of a club that wants to control what it cannot. It’s Barcelona’s ignorance to think they can control the referees through Enríquez Negreira. They have no idea how refereeing works,” says former referee and Spanish radio commentator Eduardo Iturralde González.
José María Enríquez Negreira (left) referees a game between Sevilla and Betis during the 1981-82 La Liga season.SEVILLA FC
“He used to take the referee courses in Santander, one pre-season and one mid-season; and he didn’t speak. He didn’t tell us until we were in the hotel room which group we belonged to: first, second or third, depending on the grade. And then it was he who called to tell you whether you were promoted or relegated [between the Spanish soccer divisions], nothing else,” says Iturralde. “No one has ever picked me up in a car from my hotel in Barcelona to take me to the Camp Nou, nor have any of my colleagues that I asked. His son, who trained with us, never told me anything about how I should have led.”
According to José Luis Paradas Romero, who stopped refereeing at 40 after privately telling former Spanish Football Federation president Ángel María Villar and former CTA president Victoriano Sánchez Arminio that it was a “corrupt organization”, Negreira has no way of influencing arbitrators. “For me, this is an unusual topic that has nothing to do with the referees. No one has ever instructed me to judge for or against anyone. It’s up to Enríquez Negreira to clarify what his involvement with Barcelona was.”
“The Negreira thing is wrong, but whoever buys it is wrong too. This is a matter of corruption in which the other party is also involved,” says López Nieto, who also recalls the surprise of the referees that Javier Enríquez, Negreira’s son, attended the referee courses as a coach. “People have commented that it’s a bit scandalous, but nepotism is very common in sports federations.”
“I think as far as refereeing goes, it will all fizzle out; it will be between Barcelona and Enríquez Negreira. For my part, I am glad that this investigation is taking place. Once they open the can of worms, let them get to the bottom of it and find out what happened to those reports and what they were for,” says Iturralde González.
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