Spanish Liga battle: The mystery of the briefcases

At this time of year, most European footballers are packing their bags and preparing their lengthy holidays in the Caribbean to sun their tired legs.

At this time of year, most European footballers are packing their bags and preparing their lengthy holidays in the Caribbean to sun their tired legs.

Not so in Spain, where the season still has two games to go. And right now, the talk is more about briefcases than suitcases in La Liga.

Allegations are rife about clubs offering illegal bonuses. The various rumours doing the rounds revolve around the top two, although Sevilla are mixing it with the best of them.

It was become a regional conflict. The Catalan press say that Real Madrid offered Getafe money to beat Barcelona. They go further claiming that the boys from the Bernabeu would also reward Zaragoza should they defeat Sevilla. The plot thickens - Real Madrid would double the bonus paid to Zaragoza's players if Fabio Capello's team win the league. But, as the paper laboriously explained, the two teams still have yet to play each other at La Romareda. For those who need it spelling out, Real Madrid are paying Zaragoza to throw the game.

The Madrid press was not to be outdone. On Sunday night various journalists 'confirmed' that Deportivo players would have seen their bank balances somewhat healthier had they beaten Real Madrid. Both Sevilla and Barcelona would have had to cough up. Barcelona, meanwhile, have supposedly suggested a €50,000 incentive to Victor Fernandez's side to beat Real Madrid, with the sum increasing to €100,000 if Frank Rijkaard's team lift the title.

What do those involved think? It was the standard question to coaches and players alike over the past week in Spain.

Espanyol's Ernesto Valverde said the infamous bonuses are nothing more than an "urban legend," while Deportivo's Joaquin Caparros giggled when he let slip that "maybe they do exist." Gabi Milito refused to be drawn in to the debate. "I know nothing about that," replied the Argentine defender, while Fernando Morientes teased reporters. "People talk about it so much that I guess there must be some truth in it," said the striker. "But if I knew anything I wouldn't tell you anyway," before quickly adding that in his 13 years as a professional he had never, ever, been involved in anything so sordid. Honestly.

Elsewhere, a number of Getafe players were rubbing their hands at the prospect of some more holiday spending money. Paredes and Casquero publicly said they were waiting for their bonus with 'open arms'. Mario Cotelo agreed with his teammates, before losing all sense of proportion and compared the bonuses to Osama Bin Laden. "You can't see them, but they exist."

Doubts haven't exactly been quashed by Ramon Calderon. The Real Madrid president told El Larguero (the most listened-to radio programme in the country) that he "didn't see any problem" paying bonuses to teams, as long as it was for winning. A club spokesperson quickly issued a statement stating that Real Madrid never has, nor ever will, pay bonuses to other teams. Days later though, Calderon was seen at Las Ventas bullring (which he owns) sat next to Fabio Capello and Angel Torres. The former is to be expected. The latter, however, is president of Getafe as well as a paid up Real Madrid member. Two days later Getafe would kick Barcelona for 90 minutes. Eyebrows couldn't rise any higher.

Yet to those who thrive on scandal, namely the Spanish football press, last weekend offered little material. Real Madrid beat Deportivo (albeit with a helping hand from Ruud Van Nistelrooy) as was to be expected. There was no more Barcagate with Getafe; Bernd Schuster's side couldn't repeat their cup victory over the Catalans and the points stayed in Barcelona. Sevilla dispatched Zaragoza with their trademark attractive attacking football. All of the top three won, which is surely what you'd expect from the three most in-form teams in the country.

Yet Spanish football has form. The most famous scandal was the league that Real Madrid lost in Tenerife. The Canary Islanders had nothing to play for on the last day of the season but came back from being 2-0 down to win 3-2. Several players later admitted receiving money from Barcelona, who were crowned champions thanks to the result.

A week of international football momentarily takes the spotlight off conspiracy theories and shady dealings in Spain. But with six points still at stake and three teams still in the running, we haven't heard the last of the briefcases just yet.

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