So it should come as no surprise to anyone that Spanish football matches have been fixed in years gone by. There have been some infamous cases, and there have been countless other games about which people whispered that something was not quite right.
You’re dreaming if you think football matches in Spain are not occasionally subject of money changing hands beforehand. That may be related to gambling but, much more likely, it revolves around the survival of a club in the prestigious La Liga.
Don’t take my word for it. Listen to former Valencia and Granada 74 player, Borja Criado.
He told El Pais newspaper: “I’m not trying to create a scandal, I just wanted to sound a warning and try to clean things up a bit. I enjoyed playing, but I got tired of the corruption in soccer. We need to talk about this – I mean, games will still be bought, but let’s at least get it out in the open.
“Many of the club directors are friends. It’s not uncommon for team owners to agree that this or that club needs more points and to fix the match accordingly. I saw that a lot, especially in Segunda (the second flight of Spanish football).
“It’s very easy to fix a match, even when a striker gets a clear chance on goal: he can boot the ball into the stands; after all, even a player like Benzema misses now and then.”
“Or you can just stick your hand out when you’re in the goal mouth during a corner, and bingo, it’s a penalty: game over.”
All eyes on Saturday evening will be on the title deciding match between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. No quarter will be given in that game and, unless the referee has been got at (and that has happened in Spain in the past); then I believe you can expect the best team on the night to win the match.
Barcelona must win to be crowned the rather improbable La Liga champions. They’ve had their worst season for years, but both Madrid teams have faltered at the death and given Barcelona a chance to achieve something they thought was out of the question only a few weeks ago.
But there is another potential life and death game in Spain this weekend. On Sunday Granada CF travel to Valladolid and the outcome of the game could mean one of those two clubs drops out of the top flight.
They are not alone. Almeria, Getafe and Osasuna join Granada and Valladolid when it comes to squeaky bum time on Sunday. Two from those five clubs will join Real Betis in exiting La Liga. It will be costly to whichever clubs go down.
Criado, who is now a qualified lawyer, says: “It’s impossible not to know what is going on, and then you feel like you’re involved, like it or not. You would learn from somebody that this or that club was going to lose. I had teammates who would gamble online, some of them were winning as much as 6000 Euros a month from betting.
“The owner of one club said to me: ‘The most important thing in managing a side is to have enough cash to be able to buy a few games at the end of the season so as to avoid relegation.'”
Emilio Garcia is a member of UEFA’s Control and Disciplinary Body. He says: “This is something that in Spain has traditionally been about avoiding relegation, rather than illegal betting. That said, the one can lead to the other which is why we are working with the police to keep a very close eye on Spanish games.”
UEFA and the Spanish police on corruption watch? Don’t make me laugh! That’s akin to letting the foxes guard the hen house.
Borja Criado looks back on his career in football and reflects: “I saw first hand the corruption that goes on. I idealized soccer, but now I realize I was looking at it through rose-tinted spectacles.”
Whatever the outcome of the matches at the foot of La Liga this weekend, many fans of Spanish football will cast aspersions upon at least one result. There will be lots of nudge, nudge, wink, wink going on in Spanish bars. Especially if one team loses their game too easily.
For decades the black market prevented Spain from becoming a third world country. I hope there are no under the counter payments doing the rounds in La Liga this weekend.
But I wouldn’t put money on it!