It’s the “black hand.” When in doubt, calling upon a conspiracy can be effective.
Conspiracies are quite useful because they can’t be disproved. Even if nothing happened, believers can still say “Well, we just don’t know that something didn’t happen.” It’s what makes them so effective. Conspiracy theories have something for everyone, and everyone will ultimately believe what they choose to believe. Beliefs give us comfort. It’s their principal virtue.
Look at the recent social media storm when Marca said that RM was looking to sign Seung-Woo Lee, the bright, shining star of La Masia and the player allegedly at the root of the transfer ban when envy from another club made someone rat on Barça. That certainly might have happened, but had the club’s business been correct the snitch could have squealed to the heavens, to no avail. Anyhow.
People went nuts in social media, claiming that there was a sniff of veracity to the rumor, citing a couple of allegedly solid sources, etc. The board is that stupid, after all they sold Thiago, blablabla. People like me said, essentially, “Y’all cray. It’s illogical.” Then the player came out and said through his representatives that he isn’t going anywhere. And people breathed a sigh of relief that something that was never going to happen, didn’t happen.
In the latest instance of this, after being tapped by a judge in relation to the Neymar transfer, aka the gift that keeps on giving, Bartomeu has again cited the “black hand” as having an influence. He has even gone so far as to indirectly indict RM by suggesting that a club vexed by the fact that Barça got Neymar might be influencing the ongoing ruckus, and that there is a correlation between Neymar playing well and more tax stuff coming up.
First off, Neymar didn’t play all that well against Villarreal, so the timing of the mysterious black hand has gone awry. Second, the Bartomeu strategy is brilliant for so many reasons:
— Culers love conspiracy theories. Penalties, fouls, Ballon d’Ors; persecution is the meat and potatoes of a fanbase.
— The alleged allegations are impossible to disprove, as when a transfer rumor is denied. “What else would they say?”
— As the Independence struggle roils on, it’s easy to say “They hate us because we represent you. Visca Catalunya!”
— It obscures the reality that there could, in fact, BE something going on.
— It’s the ultimate “us against them” scenario.
And to be clear, even as I support the right of any soci to ask any question about the club he wants, this Neymar business is bonkers, spinning quickly out of control from when Jordi Cases initiated legal proceedings in an effort to force full transparency on a deal destined to be as transparent as a mud bog. People snuffle in distaste at the deal while having absolutely zero idea if any of the other dozens and dozens of deals out there are just as, if not more skeezy. There isn’t someone forcing anyone to reveal details, after all. Secret payments? A little person riding an oiled llama? No idea. The Neymar deal is unprecedented in its level of detail and scrutiny. It’s like an onion in many ways, in which people can overlay pretty much anything they want because like any good conspiracy theory, who the hell knows?
Neymar cost 17m … no, 57m … no, 92m … no eleventy bazillion Euros … no … What is salary, what isn’t salary, declared and undeclared, in or out of Brazil. It’s all a morass that people are churning to suit their own purposes, from Cases on down.
But this uncertainty is one of the many reasons that Bartomeu’s “black hand” talk is so much nonsense. This deal is like a field of crap for many, a field day of litigation. There has to be something there, right? And it doesn’t even matter if there is, because the search was made possible not only by Cases’ action but by the deal itself. That other deals might be as scurrilous doesn’t matter. Because it is this deal that offers ammunition. On Twitter, in the midst of winter transfer frenzy, someone wondered, in looking at the comings and goings in the Premier League, if supporters will ever in fact know the real cost of a transfer. The answer, or course, is “No.”
And is it really any of our business?
Be that as it may, the club has defended the Neymar deal as legal, transparent and “impeccable.” Even in the context of the oft-seeming kangaroo courts in Spain, if there is nothing to sniff around, there is nothing to smell. Judges can say “Hey, that looks funky. Let’s have a gander at that,” and headlines result. Is that a “black hand,” or an organization that doesn’t have its act as impeccable as it suggests? Valid question.
No Barça president has been an angel. None. Laporta wasn’t, Gaspart wasn’t, Nunez wasn’t, Rosell wasn’t, Bartomeu isn’t. The president essentially has one job: Do no harm.
What complicates that job is power and the necessity of holding on to it. Shortcuts get taken, self-aggrandizing decisions are made, feathers ruffled, potential scandal pops up. This is as true of Laporta as it was of all the others, but he had the great luck of being president during a glorious sporting period. So he will always be linked to the glory days. All of the other stuff has been forgotten, from the miasma of the Rijkaard end of days and narrowly avoiding censure to the Great Uzbek Adventure.
Did all of the club’s presidents violate the “do no harm” credo? To greater and lesser degrees, yes. But for me, this current board has achieved a new high as part of a four-year demolition program with roots in a board schism. When Rosell and other board members resigned from the Laporta administration, the die was cast. Friends make the best enemies, after all. So when Rosell took office, among the stated objectives was to restore the club to fiscal health and fix the stain on it made by Laporta and his cabal. In the most objective sense, that didn’t happen. We know this because they sold the shirt front (taking advantage of a prior Laporta approval to do so) to a country with a complex human rights status as viewed by some, closed (then reopened, sort of) membership, neglected the sporting project, directly caused the club to be slapped with a two-window transfer ban, signed a player via a deal that is keeping the club, its name and now its two top executives in court.
Guilt or innocence isn’t the point here. Existence is. “Black hand” or not, there shouldn’t be anything for that black hand to find. RM is under investigation for violation of Article 19 and youth transfers, facing the same potential transfer ban as Barça. But unlike Barça, when RM heard from FIFA, the club got its act together instead of continuing with business as usual, then falling back on “Look at all the good we do for these kids!”
Article 19 might be silly, a restriction of right to work, etc, etc. But as of right now, it’s the law until such time as some youth player teams with a lawyer to challenge it. And the club violated Article 19, by its own admission, citing “administrative oversight.” Whether the “black hand” in question is clad in blaugrana is a valid ask.
The Messi tax case is often cited by those claiming that there is a double standard. Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Iniesta and Pique all face the eye of the Spanish government, all for the same reason: suggestions that their image-management companies were straw men. The Messi case, as the allegations sit, is vastly more extensive. Legal nerds say that there is something different there that would warrant a deeper look, because the companies were set up with the intention to mislead by obscuring Messi’s name. There is no question that this is all a distraction to the player at inconvenient times.
Is it persecution? Legal grandstanding? Is it a government attempting to send a message and close a loophole by going after one of football’s biggest earners? Is it simply some RM supporter wearing judge’s robes deciding he will fix Barça? It all comes around to the same question of whether there is anything to look at. Nothing to look at means nothing to see.
Some will say the board is a mess and needs to go. Others will say they are doing fine and should stay. Others will issue comments in this space and elsewhere about how the system is indeed rigged, and the “black hand” is real. For me it misses the point.
If there was nothing to investigate, there would be no investigation. Dealings that were said to be “transparent and above board” are under investigation. And whether it’s because Barça is a bright, shining beacon of all things Catalan or because a judge wants to make a name for himself by tilting at a big windmill is immaterial to the fact that there is something there that is drawing attention.
If you want to believe that everything is fine and it will all come right in the wash, okay. That’s a valid worldview. It might all come right in the wash. If you want to believe that everyone in the boardroom holds hands with Satan, that is also a valid worldview. The truth is somewhere in the middle as it is with everything. And it doesn’t even matter where you stand on this board. It does come down to a very simple question: “What are YOU looking at?” If the answer is “Nothing,” then there is nothing to see.