Bitter rivals on and off the pitch, tensions between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have taken an unexpected and incendiary turn with the two clubs embroiled in a war of words about which institution was closer to Francisco Franco during the Spanish dictator’s 36-year rule.
The background for the imbroglio is what’s known as the ‘Caso Negreira,’ an alleged referee payment scandal that has landed accusations of corruption at Barcelona’s doorstep.
More than eight weeks after the scandal emerged, FCB President Joan Laporta went out to bat for the Catalan club on Monday.
During a two-hour media conference, which was called to publicly respond to charges that Barça made $7.8 million of payments over 17 years to José María Negreira – the former vice president of Spanish soccer’s refereeing committee – Laporta largely stuck to his script at the beginning.
There were the expected denials and digs at great rival Real Madrid, with Laporta saying the relationship between the two clubs had now “soured” after Barça’s rival got involved with allegations of its own.
The Barça supremo even brought along what he claimed were 629 technical refereeing reports, 43 CDs and four miscellaneous reports that disprove the accusations.
However, the press conference soon pivoted in a direction nobody could have anticipated.
Partway through the two-hour appearance, Laporta attempted to turn things on Real, insisting it had in fact always been Los Blancos that had been favored by the media and refereeing decisions over the years – not Barcelona.
Laporta provided no evidence for those claims.
But Laporta finished by saying that Real Madrid is “a club considered the team of the regime,” a reference to the club’s reported historic ties with Franco during his fascist dictatorship.
Franco emerged the winner from Spain’s 1936-39 civil war and ruled the country until his death in 1975. Thousands of executions were carried out by his nationalist regime during the civil war and in the following years.
“We are talking about a club [Real] that has historically close ties to political, financial and sporting power,” Laporta said.
It’s fair to say Laporta’s comments didn’t go down too well in the Spanish capital.
So much so, that Real uncharacteristically released a video on Monday posing the question: “Which club is the team of the regime?”
CNN has reached out to Real and LaLiga for comment. Barcelona told CNN it has no further comment to make in addition to Laporta’s press conference.
Though the production quality is more akin to a high school project or amateur YouTuber than a multi-billion dollar organization, the four-and-a-half minute video lays out a number of statements that Real seemingly believes is proof that Barcelona was in fact more favored by Franco.
The video also points to the eight league titles and nine Copas del Generalísimo, later renamed the Copa del Rey, that Barcelona won during the dictatorship, while Real had to wait 15 years to win a league title under Franco’s rule.
In total, Real won 14 league titles to Barcelona’s eight under Franco, while the Blaugrana won nine Copas del Generalísimo to Real Madrid’s six.
Real’s video finishes with the words of its legendary player and president Santiago Bernabéu – the man the club’s stadium is named after – who said: “When I hear that ‘Real Madrid has been the team of the regime,’ I want to sh*t on the father of the person who says it.”
In response, the spokesperson for the Government of Cataluña called Real’s video “fake news” and “a manipulation of history” and demanded that the club take the video down.
“It is irresponsible, an offense and an insult to the thousands of people who suffered under the Franco regime, including FC Barcelona,” spokesperson Patrícia Plaja told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday.
“Beginning with the president at the time, Josep Suñol, who was shot by the regime and perhaps Real Madrid does not remember.”
Where the mudslinging goes next is anyone’s guess, but it would appear the cordial – if often tense – off-field relationship between the two clubs has reached a breaking point.