TENSION among the two superpowers of Spanish football is never far from the surface but this week has seen the emergence of fresh cause for suspicion between Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Concerns that Real could be banned from signing players were given credence when the European champions confirmed on Monday that they are subject to an investigation by world governing body Fifa over the transfer of 51 under-18 players.
It came just days after they trumpeted the capture of 16-year-old Norwegian prodigy Martin Odegaard, for whom they are believed to have paid his former club Stromsgodset more than £2m.
Barcelona are currently labouring under a transfer embargo lasting until January 2016 after they were found guilty of breaking international rules by a similar Fifa probe last year.
That inquiry began with an anonymous complaint, though it was not long before Real vice-president Pedro Lopez Jimenez was called on to deny it had been initiated by Barca’s historic arch-rivals.
Inevitably, Real’s moment under the spotlight has led to finger-pointing at the Catalan club, whose president Josep Maria Bartomeu has swiftly denied any involvement.
Bartomeu has gone further, however, insisting that any fault lies not with Barca, Real or domestic champions Atletico Madrid, who are also under investigation, but with Fifa’s rules on the movement of minors.
“It is clear that there are other clubs involved. I do not want others to be punished, I want Fifa to change the regulations. This case could be the ‘Barca Case’, as it was the ‘Bosman Case’,” he said, referring to the landmark 1995 European ruling on freedom of movement for out-of-contract players, which changed the transfer system.
Barca were found to have infringed regulations designed to prohibit the transfer of under-18s, unless covered by certain exceptions, in April. The ban was suspended while they challenged the decision, which was ultimately upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in December.
Real insist they have maintained “strict adherence” to the relevant rules and pledged to co-operate with the request for information from Fifa, which says that is has not opened disciplinary proceedings at this stage. The signing of teenager Odegaard is not believed to be one of those under scrutiny.