Xavi Hernandez has expressed his surprise at Athletico Bilbao fans calling for Barcelona to be relegated. He believes the club is innocent in the refereeing scandal and was saddened by the reaction.

Barcelona have been accused of paying around €7 million to Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira’s company between 2001 and 2018 while he was the vice president of Spain’s referees’ committee. The reports claim payments totaling €1.4m between 2016 and 2018 caught the eye of the tax office during an investigation.

Speaking to the media after the win over Espanyol, Xavi claimed he was saddened by the reaction from Bilbao fans at San Memes. He said:

“I respect the fans at San Mames. They have always treated me well, but I was surprised at the hostile atmosphere towards Barca. It was sad to see. [Barca] are being judged before time, which I don’t think is good for society. Everyone is free to [air their opinion], and I respect all opinions, whether I agree with them or not, but it made me sad.”

He added:

“I don’t have anything else to add, [just that] it makes me sad. We have not spoken about it in the dressing room with the players. We are here to win and are focused on the football. We are all professionals.”

Barcelona are innocent, states club president

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has claimed that the club will hold a press conference soon to clear their side of the scandal. They believe that they have done nothing wrong and are ready to fight the case.

He said at an event recently:

“We will give a news conference on it soon. But Barca have never bought referees nor influence. That was never the intention and that has to be clear. The facts contradict those that are trying to tell a different story.”

He tweeted yesterday:

“Culers, be calm. Barca are innocent of what it is accused of, and the victim of a campaign against its honour, in which everyone is now involved. We are not surprised, though, we will defend Barca and prove our innocence. Many will have to rectify.”

The Catalan side are on top of the La Liga table – nine points clear of Real Madrid with 13 matches remaining.