Carlo Ancelotti. AFP
Power corrupts
The Euro Zone opinion

Power corrupts

Over the last year or so, it has started to seem as if the world of Spanish football might be almost as murky as the country's politics, writes Mark Naylor

Mark Nayler


Friday, 8 March 2024, 16:34


As a columnist, I'm always spoiled for choice when looking for corruption cases in Spain to write about. Usually, of course, it's politicians or business leaders who are revealed to be limitlessly greedy and unencumbered by principle: take banker and ex-minister Rodrigo Rato and his 'Tarjetas Negras', or any of the protagonists of the ERE or Gürtel cases, for example. But over the last year or so, it has started to seem as if the world of Spanish football might be almost as murky as the country's politics.

Unlike in most political fraud cases in Spain, the recent allegations against Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti (so far) concern his personal finances only: state prosecutors suspect that he hid substantial chunks of his income from tax authorities during his first stint as the team's coach between 2013 and 2015. They seek a prison term of almost five years for Ancelotti, who returned to Real Madrid in 2021.

If the allegations against Ancelotti are proven, they will raise the same question as the scandal that ended Rato's career: 'Why?'. Though not necessarily easier to condone, fraud cases of any kind are easier to understand if they concern people trying to boost an inadequate income. Match-fixing allegations in tennis, for example, usually involve players at the bottom of the rankings who struggle to earn a living from the sport. Yet as Real Madrid's coach back in 2013, Ancelotti was reportedly earning ten million euros a year; and as president of Bankia between 2010 and 2012, Rato's salary was around the two-million euro mark.

But this we already know about corruption: it is hardly ever about the poor getting rich, but almost always about the wealthy becoming wealthier. Even someone as financially secure as Spain's ex-king Juan Carlos is allegedly not averse to making a few extra million on the side, if the opportunity presents itself.

Ancelotti's suspected misdemeanors haven't so far affected the reputation of the club he coaches. But in the biggest corruption scandal to hit Spanish football recently, an entire team was under suspicion, just as the Popular Party as a whole was found guilty of fraud in the Gürtel investigations. In the so-called Negreira scandal that broke last year, Barça FC was accused of bribery by making payments to the vice president of Spain's technical committee of referees.

In this case, the question of motivation concerns glory rather than enrichment: why would a team so good want to influence refereeing decisions in its favour anyway? Ultimately, though, Negreira reveals what all the most recent corruption cases in Spain have done, whether in business, football or politics - that power fosters a sense of impunity and is often exercised by those who have it solely for its own sake. Power corrupts, but perhaps corruption also empowers.

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