When his former colleagues describe José María Enríquez Negreira, disparaging adjectives, nicknames associated with hustlers who have gained popular notoriety and the assertion that he never enjoyed sufficient clout in his position as vice-president of the Spanish Technical Committee of Referees (CTA) to influence refereeing in La Liga are commonplace. The millions of euros his company, Dasnil, received from FC Barcelona for allegedly providing technical advice on match officiating matters have caused as much outrage as perplexity in the world of those that oversee Spanish soccer matches.
“I am surprised and ashamed that someone is using the refereeing establishment to sell smoke and mirrors. Negreira had nothing to do with it, he was not involved in the refereeing appointments. He is selling snake oil and someone has bought it,” says Antonio Jesús López Nieto, a former referee and member of the committee responsible for assigning match officials.
“He is a mug; without having a relevant role in refereeing, he has taken advantage of his situation. I saw him as one of those types that are in the [Spanish soccer] federation in order to travel and sponge off other people,” recalls a former federation employee. “He never speaks and when he does, he only says three words: Mercedes, Chivas and Davidoff,” legendary sports broadcaster and journalist Alfonso Azuara once said of Negreira.
Negreira’s reputation lies somewhere between the murkiness of having allegedly been mired in sports corruption or of being the protagonist of a picaresque story punctuated by the serious conflict of interest and ethics that, as a member of the CTA, billing services to FC Barcelona represents. What the investigation being undertaken by the Public Prosecutor’s Office must clarify is whether Negreira manipulated the will of match officials or he was a conman who led the Camp Nou hierarchy to believe, between 2001 and 2018, that his ascendancy over Liga referees guaranteed FC Barcelona, as he said in a statement given to the Tax Agency, that “no decisions were made against them” during matches and that the club received “neutral” treatment on the field.
“This is the incompetence of a club wanting to control what it cannot. It is the ignorance of Barcelona believing they could control refereeing through Enríquez Negreira. They have no idea of how refereeing works,” says former referee and Spanish radio commentator Eduardo Iturralde González.
“He used to attend the refereeing courses in Santander, one before the start of the season and another one in the middle; and he didn’t talk. He only told us in the hotel room what group we were in: the first, second or third, according to the grades they gave us. And then it was him who called to tell you whether you had been promoted or relegated [between the Spanish soccer divisions], nothing else,” says Iturralde. “Nobody ever picked me up in a car at my hotel in Barcelona to take me to Camp Nou, nor any of my colleagues I have asked. His son, who was coaching with us, never said anything to me about how I should have refereed.”
According to José Luis Paradas Romero, who quit 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 did not have any capacity to influence referees. “For me, it is an unusual issue that has nothing to do with the referees. No one has ever given me instructions to referee in favor of or against anyone. It is up to Enríquez Negreira to clarify what his involvement was with Barcelona.”
“The Negreira thing is wrong, but whoever buys it is also in the wrong. This is a matter of corruption, in which the other party is also a participant,” says López Nieto, who also recalls astonishment among the referees that Javier Enríquez, Negreira’s son, attended the referees’ courses as a coach. “People were already commenting that it was a bit scandalous, but in the sports federations, nepotism is widespread,” Before starting out as a coach, Javier Enríquez had already worked as an analyst for the coaching staff of the Spain national team during the era of Luis Aragonés (2004-2008).
“I believe that as far as the refereeing issue is concerned, this will all come to nothing; it will be between Barcelona and Enríquez Negreira. For me, I’m glad this investigation is happening. As they have opened the can of worms, let them get to the bottom of it and find out what happened with those reports and what they were for,” says Iturralde González.
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