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In denial

My 13 year-old son's into some Canadian band called 'Sum 41'. I'd not heard of them myself but then again music did stop for me in 1982 when Captain Beefheart decided to call it a day. Anyway, my son asked me the other day, 'Dad. What does ''It's so easy when you're always in the Nile'' mean?'

I asked him to repeat the phrase. 'In the Nile' he insisted. I wasn't sure how to respond. 'Well, it might be some kind of metaphor' I attempted, 'but I'm not sure what it would mean. In the Nile, in the Amazon. I dunno' I shrugged. I told him to get the lyrics up for me, on a search engine. Sure enough, there was the couplet:

'You take it with a smile/ It's so easy when you're always in denial'.

In denial, in the Amazon, whatever, our family's laugh at my son's expense has proved significant this week in La Liga, where lots of people have been very much in the Nile. It's difficult to start with anything else today because it's necessary to convey just how much this week has been dominated by two recordings by different players, both admitting that they'd taken part in two separate games in which they, and some of their team-mates, had been allegedly paid to lose.

Spanish football discourse is rich in 'fixing' terminology, but the two words most bandied about this week have been 'tongo' and 'amaño', which both mean more or less the same thing, only the former sounds like the thing dodgy folks wear on Ipanema beach when they're playing volleyball. Of course, flanked by their lawyers on subsequent days, both players denied that they'd ever said anything of the sort, which is the usual insult to everyone's intelligence.

The first player to be implicated in the week's 'tongo' news, Jesuli, ex-Betis and ex-Tenerife player, admitted in a conversation with Real Sociedad's president Iñaki Badiola that he had been paid 6,000 euros as part of a conspiracy to allow Málaga to win their final game against Tenerife last season (they won 2-0), thereby assuring promotion and leaving Real Sociedad to stew in Segunda 'A'.

Jesuli had spent time at Real Sociedad the previous season on loan, but had travelled up to San Sebastian allegedly 'on business' to talk to Badiola. The problem is that Badiola had the conversation recorded, although Jesuli seems to acknowledge this in the conversation, heard by every man woman and child in Spain by now.

Jesuli, a player faded into obscurity and on the verge of retirement was suddenly besieged by the media, threatened with court action by Tenerife, Malaga, and of course Real Sociedad - although their president was of course more interested in accusing the Sanz family (owners of Málaga, whose daddy was once Real Madrid's top man) of corruption, something that he had already done this year over an alleged fixing of the Málaga v Sevilla B fixture, also in last season's campaign, a game mentioned in this column last week.

Real Sociedad's president, a man under pressure to resign, with his club in administration, then went even further by accusing Tenerife's centre-back Juanma of being the kingpin of the conspiracy, basing his accusation on the fact that the player had committed a seemingly senseless hand-ball in his own area to help Mälaga wrap up the game 2-0 with a penalty. Juanma is also talking to his lawyers. In the midst of economic crisis, it's boom time for the legal profession in Spain.

Then suddenly, like Ipanema beach, there were tongos galore. But the second one to emerge, just days after the Jesuli admission-denial, has got the bar-flies wagging their tongues like there's no mañana.

This one relates to the final game of the 2006-07 season, when Athletic Bilbao allegedly paid certain members of the Levante team, by the statistically safe from relegation (they went down the next season), to throw the game at San Mamés. Athletic had to win in case Celta, a place below them, won their game. It would have meant the first relegation of Athletic since the league began in 1928.

The bird who sang was Iñaki Descarga, an ex-Levante player, now playing in Poland for Legia Warsaw who, bizarrely enough for this case, is a Basque. His surname means 'discharge' and he certainly has done. The conversation that hit the headlines this last week was between Descarga and Levante's president, Julio Romero (who is still there, just), recorded in the distant past but brought to light only days after the Jesuli incident by Sport CV on the Popular Television channel.

The fact that Celta went down because of this game (they are still down) is not quite the point at issue. The most damning moment of the jolly conversation between the two is where Romero says that he had already made sure that Angel Villar, the long-serving president of the Spanish Federation, was aware of the fix, because his team (Levante) meant Athletic 'no harm'.

Villar, only days before the recording hit the headlines, had been re-elected for the umpteenth time as Federation supremo, much to the disgust of his considerable band of enemies. Villar, of course, is famously from Bilbao, and is seen as a major element in their survival in the top flight over the years. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant. It's what everybody thinks. Those who do not think it can be generally found in Bilbao and in other more sympathetic parts of the Basque Country, and they will tell you that it's all part of the anti-Basque conspiracy. You can make up your own minds, but it ain't an easy one.

Of course, why have these things only come to light now? Good question Watson. Well, in the case of Jesuli, it seems that Real Sociedad's president has decided to keep the recording (there are actually two) as his last throw of the dice. The team of external administrators at the club have basically informed the municipal authorities that the best thing they can do for the club is to kick Badiola out. Badiola, like Sanz at Málaga, is no angel, but the evidence against Málaga is accumulating steadily.

Whether it saves Badiola's butt only time will tell, but of course the Spanish Federation and the League authorities were very quick to wash their hands of the Jesuli recording, responding pathetically that unless there was a legal challenge to Sanz then it was not within their powers to do anything. Yeah, right.

The hand-washing has been rather more subtle in the Descarga case. The player himself has been threatened with the sack by Legia Warsaw, who announced that they only wanted 'clean' players in their squad (good for them), but Angel Villar has been rather more circumspect, advised, no doubt, by his honest team of lawyers. Caught in the flagrante glare whilst in Santiago de Chile, the supremo declined to answer a journalist's question which basically asked him if he intended to investigate the case.

Now there's a good one. If Villar did know about it, then he can hardly mount an investigation. But if he doesn't, the issue is unlikely to disappear. His friends in the media are few. If he denies publicly that Romero informed him, then Romero could himself take legal action, although that is unlikely in the circumstances. The only thing that can save Villar is the possibility that the whole thing has been designed (as it obviously has) to discredit him, a week after his re-election. He is likely to work on this one in the coming weeks, and escape his pursuers yet again.

The problem here is that the football authorities, as in the cases of racism here, always prefer to sweep things under the carpet. There is no particular desire to confront the issues, or even to investigate them. True, it's always difficult to prove these things, since most payments for these incidents are rarely made by bank transfer (!), but the nation-in-denial syndrome is not a very attractive one.

At the very least, someone should have the authority to call Jesuli to task, and ask him, 'You said you were given 6,000 euros to throw a game? The next day, you said that it had been taken out of context, and that you hadn't said that. Ok, but could you please explain, in that case, what you meant by your original sentence, the one where you said you'd been paid six grand to throw the game?' And when Jesuli shrugs his shoulders, the prosecution simply says 'M'lud, I rest my case'.

Jesuli, bless him, has also claimed that he didn't even play in the game, because he'd broken his nose the week before, so he couldn't possibly have been paid. But why this should mean that he wasn't paid is a mystery to even the drunkest of barflies. Money for silence? Seems his benefactors hadn't counted on hidden microphones and a desperate president of Real Sociedad.

Some other genius from the accused Tenerife squad piped up the next day in the media and said 'Nah, it's all rubbish. Do you really think players would throw a game for 6,000 euros?' As my friend the barman remarked, 'Did he mean that they didn't throw it, or that they would have thrown it for say, 10,000?'

It makes me want to write about tiddlywinks. It's not the first time that this stuff has raised its ugly head in Spain, and this is hardly the only country where players allegedly fix games, but it's probably the only one which steadfastly tries to ignore the weeds in its own garden. In 1996, Angel Villar received news that Real Madrid B's players had been paid to let Almería stay in the Second Division. He is reported to have told his deputy; Gerardo González, (who then became his blabbing enemy), 'We either stay quiet and forget about it, or we let the scandal run'.

They did the former, of course. Madrid, to their credit, acted unilaterally and kicked out the players who'd taken the money, but Villar's silence spoke/speaks for itself. La Liga is a big money institution. Both Celta and Real Sociedad are in administration and on the brink of collapse. It's not all the fault of their respective relegations, but the massive drop in income brought about by these games has hardly helped. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next week or so.

Oh yes, Barcelona stuffed Valencia with Thierry (Henry) scoring a hat-trick, whilst their opponents next week, Real Madrid, lost 3-4 at home to Sevilla in an epic game, but one which only served to confirm the host's downhill slide.

The top flight yielded 44 goals in ten games, great stuff for the paying public who will be hoping that someone can hang on to Barça for a few weeks yet. Real Madrid can hardly be looking forward to next week's game in the Camp Nou. Watch this space.

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