The testy relationship between Spain's greatest football clubs, Barcelona FC and Real Madrid have become more strained in recent weeks.
The teams, which are easily ranked among the best in the world are known to have fanned fan frenzy for decades over the 'El Classico' matches, have always tried to keep friendly ties off the pitch despite the storied on-filed rivalry. However, the strains worsened in recent weeks after a corruption scandal threatened to shake up Barcelona FC.
What is Caso Negreira Scandal?
The scandal, which came to be known as 'Caso Negreira,' refers to alleged payments made by Barcelona FC to a former refereeing official. The inter-club ties descended into chaos when Real Madrid broke a mutual agreement to not interfere in the internal matters of the rival.
After prosecutors accused Barcelona FC of hush money payment, fraudulent management and falsification of documents, Real Madrid decided to take part in the legal proceedings against the rival. Madrid said the charges were of "utmost concern regarding the gravity of the facts".
Barcelona denied all charges of corruption. Its President Joan Laporta defended the Catalan club, saying that its payment of $7.8 million over 17 years to José María Negreira, the former vice president of Spanish soccer's refereeing committee, was entirely legal. According to Barcelona FC, the money was paid to Negreira for consultancy work.
Most Ferocious Attack
"This is one of the most ferocious attacks in our history ... I am convinced that FC Barcelona has not committed any crime of sports-related corruption. I hope that sooner rather than later it is fully exonerated," Laporta said.
On his turn, Laporta trained guns on Real Madrid, saying that the rival club had actually benefited from refereeing decision over the last decades. "Everyone knows that Real Madrid is a club that is historically favoured by refereeing decisions, and continues to be now .... It's a club that has been known for being the club of the regime [of the Franco dictatorship], because of its proximity to those in power politically, economically and in sports," he said.
He also added that the top refereeing officials in Spain were linked to Madrid for more than 70 years. "For 70 years, those in charge of making sure that there was justice on the field were either former members or players or officials from Madri," he said, according to Spaininenglish.
Making matters worse, Real Madrid stepped up the attack and said Barcelona was favored during the Francoist years, and even went as far as to call Barca the 'club of the regime'. The Madrid club tried to link Barca to former dictator Franco, by bringing up a photo that showed Franco-era minister José Solís Ruiz taking part at a function to inaugurate the Camp Nou Stadium in 1957.
This charge widened the controversy beyond sports, with the Catalan government condemning Real Madrid's move. "It's irresponsible, an offence and an insult to the thousands of people who suffered during the Franco regime, as well as to Barcelona and to the club's president at the time, Josep Suñol, who was shot by the regime, which is something that perhaps Madrid forgot," Catalan government spokeswoman Patrícia Plaja said.
How They Stand in LaLiga
Barcelona lead Real Madrid in the current LaLiga season, with three victories in five matches. In their biggest victory this year against the classic rivals, Barca beat Real 4-0 at Camp Nou. The Catalan side have an 11-point lead over Madrid right now, with nine games remaining.