The protagonists in the serie “Side Games” say that “the Second Division is a bottomless pit and if you’re promoted to First, all your problems are over”
“We’ve been hearing about the boy who cried ‘wolf’ concerning match-rigging now for years. Well friends, I give you the wolf”. Few people have such a close connection with the going-on behind the doors of Spanish football in recent decades as journalist José Manuel Estrada, popularly known as ‘Pipi’, star reporter of José María García for decades and who with more grace and brilliance has been able to summarize the outbreak of the recent ‘Operation Oikos‘.
And indeed, for the first time we are afforded a close-up view of the jaws of the beast we imagined mythological and how its slender silhouette violently jumps the fences onto the pitches of the First Division, which on its own steam is considered the best league in the world.
Never before has a judicial operation linked to match-rigging in football affected a match of the relevance of Valladolid-Valencia of the last day of the League in the First Division, in which the team led by Marcelino sealed their classification for the Champions League. And thus far, fans had never heard from somebody so well-connected to the beautiful game in recent times as former striker Carlos Aranda, once a promising star-player with Real Madrid who had come up through the ranks of a host of teams including Osasuna, Zaragoza, Seville, Granada and Las Palmas, who so crudely addressed the issue of match-rigging in professional football.
That wolf that we had heard so much about, that we have seen in the series directed by Daniel Calparsoro “Side Games” and that until now only roamed the fields of the lower divisions of our football, has sneaked onto the fields of the top category and thirstily penetrated deep inside the dressing rooms, demonstrating that, as the masterful series of THE MEDIAPRO STUDIO and DIRECTV points out, reality always surpasses fiction.
The protagonists in the series say that “the Second Division is a bottomless pit and if you’re promoted to First, all your problems are over.” Turned almost into a premonition, that expression resonates time and time again during the interrogation carried out during recent months by the court in Huesca, where for the first time players and managers have admitted the existence of what the protagonists have come to euphemistically refer to as a “gentleman’s agreement“. An agreement that is nothing more than to directly agree with your closest rival when you know the calendar that if in the final matches of the season, someone needs points to avoid relegation, the team who has already secured their place allows the other to win.
That is exactly what has happened, as revealed in an exclusive interview granted to EL MUNDO by Íñigo López, head of Deportivo de La Coruña and Pilar del Huesca who managed the huge feat of winning classification to the First Division. “You simply lower the intensity” and, consequently, “you let yourself be beaten.” This happened, according to his devastating testimony, in the Huesca-Nástic of May 27th, 2018, in which the Huesca team threw the match to allow the Catalan team to avoid relegation and sinking beyond the bottomless pit of the Second.
The fact that such going-on exist, which some players like López do not hesitate to admit as commonplace in professional football, automatically generate privileged information from the protagonists. That is, players who allow themselves to be beaten and those who win even before togging-out, know how the match will end. And there appears one of the most fearsome claws of the wolf, that of gambling. A business that, as Aranda has also recognized before the judge without any objection, “has corrupted football.”
Returning to the series, “betting’s a scam, you never win.” “Unless you know the result”. Yes. So, “football, which we thought was a sport, is actually a drug.”
That’s why Aranda, when he assures in the conversations intercepted by police that he has bought “seven Valladolid players” and that he knows how the game will end, he tells his friends to bet on Valencia to win and encourages them to automatically double the amount invested. “Tell nobody, and by nobody, I mean nobody,” he warns in what could perfectly be a dialogue from one of the episodes of Calparsoro’s series, in which, as in the wires on Aranda, the drug also appears.
The president of LaLiga, Javier Tebas, on whose novel the series is based and who has fought match-rigging in Spanish football harder than anyone, played down the matter publicly. Just like somebody who is overwhelmed because his premonitions have acquired an uncontrollable dimension. He says that Aranda is a show-off and that you don’t have to believe everything he says. In the absence of knowing how the ‘Oikos case’ will end, we must remember that he already says in his book that “That’s not what football is all about”. But beware, because now more than ever, “it runs a serious risk becoming just that.”