Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has defended himself at court over irregularities in the deal that brought Neymar to Barcelona while attributing the signing of the Brazilian star to then manager Tito Vilanova, who passed away on 25 April 2014.
The Spanish giants signed Neymar in summer 2013 from Santos. The club then said they paid €57.1m to sign him, before a year later admitting the real price of the deal was €87m – forcing former club president Sandro Rosell to resign.
Then it was said that Barcelona eventually paid Santos just €17m while the other €40m was paid to a company owned by Neymar and his father to snub other suitors and advance the deal to the summer of 2013 – even though the first agreement was reportedly for him to join in 2014.
Spain's tax authorities found irregularities in the process, with doubts as to whether that €40m was a hidden payment to increase the player's salary in order to avoid tax obligations, and according to reports the deal is set to rise to a world record fee of €158m (£116m, $173m).
The prosecutors have demanded a €25.1 fine to former president Sandro Rosell and €3.8m to current club president Josep Maria Bartomeu. The two face prison sentences of over seven years and over two years respectively.
Spanish radio station Cadena Ser have now disclosed a video of the interrogation of Bartomeu in the court last month where the current Barcelona president claims the signing of Neymar by the club in summer 2013 rather in 2014 was a request by the then first team coach, Tito Vilanova.
Asked why they signed Neymar, Bartomeu told the judge: "We spoke to our coach, who at that time was Tito Vilanova, and he asked me and the then president, if we could bring forward the signing of Neymar by one year as he felt that the team needed a player with his characteristics.
"He wanted to make the signing in 2013 instead of bringing him over in the summer of 2014. The plan for the Neymar was to finish the World Cup in Brazil and then move to Barcelona but we wanted to carry out the wishes of the coach. Sandro Rosell, had a good relationship with his father, spoke to him and we saw how they'd forged a deal to bring him to Barcelona a year ahead of what was originally scheduled".
Bartomeu tells the judge on three different occasions that Vilanova was behind the Neymar signing, while pointing out that the manager was then already under treatment from the cancer.
Spanish media suggest that the current Barcelona president is trying to hide himself from any guilt by blaming the former manager, prompting a number of critics to the current president in the social networks.
"Tito requested to reinforce the defence and forward line. He requested a center back and Neymar as the forward. The coaches don't get involved in the price of players. He told us that he only had one match changing player and wasn't interested in keeping David Villa. He wanted Villa to leave and that we sign Neymar as a striker," Bartomeu added.
"If Neymar coming wasn't realistic we'd stick with David Villa who had another year left to run on his contract. We understood the needs of the coach, this happened in New York in February 2013. He was receiving treatment there for a six week period and confirmed to us: 'I want this change, one striker for another'".
Meanwhile, Bartomeu claimed former president Rosell and not him signed the deal. "As it was a Brazilian player and as Sandro lived there a long time ago, he knew the market well, so it was Sandro Rosell who dealt in all negotiation with Neymar's father".
Questioned whether he was involved with any negotiation with Santos or Neymar's father, Bartomeu said: "No, no. At no point".
Later, Bartomeu himself responded to critics, claiming he didn't try to blame Vilanova but wanted to explain what happened. "It is a really bad interpretation. I do not like people to be play with the figure of Tito Vilanova, who has been a very important person for this club."