With the La Liga title at stake in a final day, the pressure for Real Madrid and Barcelona to come out on top, might see some dirty deeds

La Liga’s final game will begin next Sunday with the championship on the line, a clear advantage for Real Madrid and two showdowns which will draw millions of viewers both on TV and live in the stadiums. And yet, many of them will do so while thinking that the outcome might be rigged in some way.

‘Maletines’ (suitcases in Spanish) are not a new phenomenon. This colloquial way of naming economic incentives for a number of sides in the final stretch of any competition have been going on since football was invented two centuries ago. Some sort of competitive ‘push’ coming from a third party bonus for teams with nothing to gain in a particular game… but who will fight tooth and nail to secure a win if and when the price is right. Many consider it a licit way of rewarding a club which helps you to conquer an objective. Others, inversely, believe it brings forward a corrupt, nasty side of the sport.

Famous examples of this sort of soft-bribery have taken place in the last couple of decades, with two historical and amazing upsets by CD Tenerife in the early nineties against Real Madrid. Both times, Tenerife seemed to have no motivation whatsoever when the time came to face the Madridista team. And both times, incredibly, Madrid lost in huge defeats that turned around the outcome of La Liga title, won ultimately by FC Barcelona. As years went by, Tenerife players admitted that their main source of motivation was due to large amounts of money paid in bonuses coming from Barcelona.

Another famous story is related to the cruel way Deportivo de la Coruña lost the 1993-1994 championship in the last game, after a goal-less draw at home against Valencia CF. Deportivo had the chance of winning it in the last minute, but Miroslav Djukic missed the penalty shot and González, Valencia’s goalie, celebrated his save wildly. He was a happy man: as some players told years later, a large sum of cash was handed to them in a remote location.

Even members of the board of big teams have admitted using this method. Juan Onieva, Real Madrid’s former Vice-President, laughed when remembering that in 2001 they paid generously for Hercules CF’s fantastic game against Barça, effectively wiping them out from the title race. Twenty years earlier, in 1980, Sevilla players received 300.000 pesetas a piece (some 1.800 euros, without inflation) for defeating Real Sociedad in La Liga’s final game (2-1), which at the end of the day handed the championship to Los Blancos.

Nowadays, this stuff is much harder to monitor. La Liga’s control committee has come down hard on teams who accept third party bonuses. Some of these cases are on trial, such as Betis and Osasuna’s affair a couple of years ago. Former Betis player Antonio Amaya even admitted to the judge that his team had accepted a bonus from Osasuna if they beat Real Valladolid, even though the money was never transferred. In similar fashion, Levante UD’s squad would have received a similar payment in 2011 from Real Zaragoza. In this case, the difference (and what makes this case even more despicable) would be that reportedly Levante would have let themselves go and lose on purpose against Zaragoza, which in turn allowed them to avoid relegation that season.

All in all, this spiky subject has gone throughout many phases over the last fifty years and nowadays seems to have filtered down to lower-tier divisions, where scandals are much more frequent than in La Liga and second Division games. Taking all this into consideration, it is understandable that many fans will suspect Eibar or Malaga in this year’s last game against La Liga’s two top teams. Both sides have defended their honour lately and have assured all they will try to win at all costs with no bonuses in sight, only their competitive pride.

We’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, Spanish authorities keep trying to come down hard on those guilty of paying or receiving bonuses, but this habit remains unscathed. Football’s B-side, in that sense, is here to stay.

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