As you've doubtless heard, Manchester United's Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera has been named in connection with a match-fixing scandal back in his native country. He denies all the allegations in the strongest terms — and we, poor little blog that we are, have no reason to doubt him — but for anybody wondering what the story is, here's a quick overview of events so far ...
Going into the last day of the 2010-11 Spanish league season, Real Zaragoza were in 18th place in the table and facing the prospect of relegation to the second tier. Zaragoza's last game was away against Levante, who were 12th in the table and in no danger of going down. In the end, Zaragoza won the final game 2-1, finished 13th in the table, and Deportivo la Coruña were relegated in their place.
What allegedly happened?
Zaragoza bought the game: some or all Levante's players, so the allegations go, were paid by Zaragoza to throw the match. That, at least, is the contention of Spain's state prosecutor Alejandro Luzón, who has been investigating the game since 2013. That investigation began after Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, named this game (along with nine others) as being potentially suspect.
What are the specifics of the allegations?
Luzón's contention is that the president of Zaragoza, Agapito Iglesias, along with two other directors, agreed with the players and coaching staff that they would pay off Levante's players to the tune of 965,000 euros. As quoted in AS:
In executing this agreement, on 17 and 19 May 2011 the adviser of Zaragoza and financial director of the club, Francisco Javier Porquera, ordered the transfer from the account of Zaragoza the amounts of money to the accounts of [sporting director] Antonio Prieto, [coach] Javier Aguirre and these players: Lanzaro, Ander Herrera, Toni Doblas, Paulo da Silva, Braulio, Ponzio, Gabi, Jorge Lopez and Diogo.
According to USA Today, the writ issued by the office of the prosecutor specifies payment details, dates, and the specific bank accounts that allegedly received money.
Hang on, aren't those all Zaragoza players?
Yes, they are. The suggestion appears to be that Zaragoza transferred the money to their own players and staff; then, according to Luzón, "to establish the bribe, the funds provided by Real Zaragoza were taken out in cash by some club members". Presumably the thinking there is that footballers taking out and then 'losing' large sums of cash is inherently less suspicious than football clubs doing the same.
One of the players named above, Gabi (then on loan at Zaragoza; now captain of Atletico Madrid), has since confirmed receiving money from the club. "I did what the club told me to do," he told the prosecutor. He went on to explain that as far as he was concerned, the money related to Zaragoza's parlous financial situation at the time, and he claims to have returned the cash to the club. Iglesias, meanwhile, has claimed that the money was used to fund transports and tickets for the 12,000 Zaragoza fans who made the trip to Levante.
What does Herrera have to say?
Herrera placed a statement on his Facebook page on Tuesday morning. Initially he identified himself as one of "41 people cited as a possible witness", though he has since amended that to read "one of 41 people mentioned". He also stated, fairly unambiguously, that:
I have never had and will never have anything to do with manipulating match results. If I am ever called to testify in any judicial hearing, I'll be happy to attend, as my conscience is totally clear.
Manchester United issued a statement in September denying reports that Herrera had been summoned to give evidence to the prosecutor. The club hasn't, however, said anything in relation to these latest development.
Is anybody else of note involved?
As noted above, Atlético Madrid captain Gabi — who scored both goals in that win over Levante — has already acknowledged that money was moving around. Also playing for Zaragoza that day was Jefferson Montero, currently at Swansea City. Javier Aguirre, Zaragoza's then coach, is currently manager of Japan. One further name to keep in mind is that of Toni Doblas, Zaragoza's reserve keeper on the day. Though he never had much of a footballing career — he's currently playing in the Finnish league — the Mirror claim that the evidence against him relating to these allegations is, in the opinion of the prosecutor at least, particularly "damning".
What's the possible punishment?
Fixing football matches is a criminal offence in Spain — "sporting fraud" — and as such the consequences are not just limited to footballing sanctions. Bans from football can stretch from between one to six years, and jail sentences are possible. as well as possible jail sentences. As for the clubs, they could find themselves banned from official competitions; Levante are currently mid-table in La Liga, while Zaragoza were eventually relegated in 2012/13, and are currently sixth in the Segunda Division.
What happens next?
As things stand currently, Herrera (along with 40 others) is an imputado; he has been formally accused by a state prosecutor. A judge will review the prosecutor's case and decide which (if any) of the imputados are to face trial. Should a trial take place, then it will likely be heard by a panel of three judges.
Thanks to @Archie_V for his insights into the Spanish legal system.