This article was originally published on July 7 and has been updated to reflect UEFA handing Osasuna a one-year ban from the competition and a €100,000 (£86,000; $109,000) fine by the La Liga club this week.
Osasuna had one of the best seasons in their history, only to reach the Copa del Rey final (lost 2-1 by Real Madrid), finish seventh in La Liga and qualify for Europe for the first time since 2006-07.
After the match on June 4, coach Jagoba Arasate, his players and the club’s staff went on holiday for the 2023-24 season, which includes a Europa Conference League campaign. Just three days later, an email from UEFA arrived at the club’s offices in Pamplona. Suddenly, everyone in the circle experienced a very different reality.
“We received an email saying there is a problem even though we have administrative permission to play in European competitions,” the club’s director general Fran Canal told The Athletic. Or we had to be tested to make sure we weren’t.
The email was a reference to ‘Caso Osasuna’ – a match-fixing scandal that dates back to the end of the 2013-14 La Liga season. This led to the indictment of several of the club’s former directors in 2020, including five-year prison sentences against former president Miguel Angel Arcanco and former executive director Angel Maria Vizcay. Seven other individuals were found guilty, including two former Real Betis players, Antonio Amaya and Xabi Torres, who were paid €650,000 from Osasuna club funds.
All of this is very public knowledge in Spain – including the Spanish Football Federation, which confirmed Osasuna’s qualification for European competition last season. Osasuna’s current president, Luis Sabalza, and the regime were very clear about what happened – They were the first to report the disappearance of money from the club to the local police in early 2015.
Therefore, it was expected to explain the details of their situation in Osasuna to the investigators of the UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Committee, Dimitris Davakis and Dougou Yasar, and to avoid any problems. This did not happen.
“It’s all done by email,” Kanal said. “They asked us if we were involved in match-fixing and we clearly replied that we were not. We tried to explain and explain what happened. It is clear that we cannot be to blame – we were the ones who told the authorities that 2.3 million euros were missing from the club’s funds. They only replied with the proposal of a penalty.
At the end of June, the case was transferred to UEFA’s appeals body, where Osasuna felt that a relevant UEFA legal statement supported their case as decisions made by the Spanish legal system can be taken by the committee’s three judges.
“We have different arguments,” Kanal said. “First of all, those who committed these illegal acts have been condemned by the current board. The club itself was not investigated, it was actually a victim of corruption. Spanish courts have always said that Osasuna is not, and cannot be, a guilty party. The decision of the Spanish court, which we have sent to the appeal committee, shows that the crime was committed by individuals for their personal gain, not for the benefit of the club.
However, the appeals body agreed with the regulators that Osasuna were in breach of the rules and recommended a one-year ban from the 2023-24 Europa League. Uefa finally concluded that Osasuna should be able to play in the Conference League this season after taking part in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), but on Thursday Europe’s governing body handed down a one-year ban and fine for the La Liga side. It will cost them 100,000 euros to take the company to court in Pamplona. Osasuna said in a statement on Thursday that it will not appeal the decision.
Kanal said he had no problem with the rules when the first one-year ban was recommended, but disagreed with the interpretation given by UEFA’s regulators and referees.
“We will consider the rules correctly,” he said. “We must all do everything to eliminate corruption. But we don’t agree that we broke any laws. It is only for interpretation and UEFA wanted to interpret it this way, they are not forced. The person who made the corruption case cannot be the one who denounced it first. Because if you don’t protect the hacker, you’re in trouble.
Osasuna responded to that initial recommendation in a club statement, confirming that the decision “takes serious care of their rights” and that they will appeal to CAS.
It is very difficult for the players, for the club, for the whole city to take. Boy said. “They are taking away what we won at home. We fight to convince them and for what we get, the right to participate. This is why we have to appeal to CAS.
Many in Pamplona are frustrated that their relatively small club has been left alone to fight their case. Barcelona have received more institutional support in their fight to avoid any UEFA fines for the payment of Caso Negreira, the former vice-president of Spain’s football referee committee.
There was also an angry statement from the Osasuna club, which condemned the hints in the Spanish newspapers, which confirmed that Barça would not be punished, which was “to build a history of sacrificing to support the weak”. The president of the Spanish Football Federation, Luis Rubiales, responded to this statement by calling it “fake news”.
“La Liga and the (Spanish) federation, we understand their point of view (that is) they have to take a neutral point of view,” Canal said. “Our disagreement with the federation is that they publicly expressed their presumption of innocence to Barcelona, and they did not do so in our case.”
Barcelona president Joan Laporta met UEFA president Aleksandar Ceferin last April and the Blaugrana chief said he had been assured the club would not be punished. When asked if Osasuna’s high-profile president, Sabalzam, had such access, Kanal shook his head. “No, we didn’t have that relationship,” he said. “What weapons do the Barca use to defend themselves? We have our own.”
Turkish clubs Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş, and North Macedonia’s Pobeda, have been banned from UEFA competitions since 2007. All three unsuccessfully appealed to CAS to overturn their bans.
In the year In 2020, Manchester City succeeded in overturning a two-year Champions League ban for breaching Financial Fair Play rules. Kanal Osasuna said it would not follow the example set by City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak, who claimed he had “spent £30m on 50 top lawyers” to take on UEFA in CAS.
“We don’t pay the top 50 lawyers in the world,” Osasuna said before appealing to CAS. I promise that,” he said. “We will base our argument on the appeal committee’s ruling, but we don’t have it yet. We will go to CAS to defend what we truly believe in, which is that Osasuna deserves the right to play in the Conference League next year.”
“For me, CAS should exist as a safe haven that gives legal guarantees that the rules will be followed and the law will be respected – no matter what your size. That’s a fundamental principle. If we don’t believe in justice, we have a problem.
Conference League Playoff Allocation It is August 7 and the first games will be held on August 24. Athletic Bilbao would have secured a place in the competition after finishing eighth in La Liga last year had Osasuna’s appeal failed.
A missed European campaign would have cost Osasuna at least €10 million in lost revenue between matchday income, prize money and sponsorship opportunities. On Thursday, the UAF confirmed that Osasuna will be banned from participating in the tournament for five percent of their revenue. The early uncertainty presents a major problem for their squad’s plans as they do not know their 2023-24 salary and transfer budget.
“There is institutional damage. Such scandals are a big stain on our image, they have an incalculable value,” Kanal said, before Osasuna learned they could compete in Europe this season. “It also means a big financial loss. Then the team is planning for next season; we can’t finish that now without knowing we’re in Europe.”
Considering the journey the club has traveled since the events of 2014, it was difficult for many in Osasuna to accept the situation. The club’s president, Sabalza, had to foreclose on his own house to pay the security required to take on the role, with the team on the verge of relegation before painstakingly slowly and steadily working their way back into the third tier.
Improvements both on and off the field in recent years mean Osasuna is widely seen as a model of good governance. Fans who retreated after the club’s relegation and scandal have returned in large numbers, and messages of support were seen at the San Fermin celebrations in Pamplona city center last month.
💪🔵🔴 #Osasuna and UEFA🇪🇺 are at Pamplona’s Plaza del Ayuntamiento! #Sanfermines2023 pic.twitter.com/oOTZU8TFa6
— Radio Marca Navarra (@radiomarcanav) July 6, 2023
A difficult and embarrassing past that they thought was behind them seems to have come back to haunt them, but at least they are now confident about playing in Europe.
“Ultimately, we have to accept this, we have to accept the situation we are in,” Kanal said last month. “We can defend ourselves, no one has to worry about that. We will do everything we can to defend this club to the death. No one can take away the taste of victory from reaching the Copa del Rey final to Real Madrid and then going to Europe at home.”
“Then, we’ll see what God wants.”
(Top photo: Osasuna fans watching the Copa del Rey in May; by Cesar Manso/AFP via Getty Images)