Football

Barca look to keep Neymar saga from affecting play

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The saga of Neymar's transfer to Barcelona is threatening to disrupt the Spanish champion's performances on the pitch.

The Brazil forward's transfer from Santos last June has led national authorities to charge the Spanish league club with tax fraud as the price of the deal has ballooned from 57.1 million euros ($74 million) to 100 million euros ($138 million).

Barcelona made a voluntary payment of 13.55 million euros to tax authorities on Monday to cover any eventual irregularities from a convoluted contract that has already cost former president Sandro Rosell his position.

"I hope it doesn't affect the team," midfielder Andres Iniesta was quoted as saying Tuesday from a sponsor's event. "It's not good for the team or for him, all of this talk of things besides football."

Barcelona followed up its Champions League win at Manchester City with a disappointing 3-1 loss at Real Sociedad last weekend, and there are questions whether the off-field circus accompanying perhaps world football's most expensive transfer is affecting the squad.

"We can just hope that all of the noise surrounding Neymar's case doesn't last long," Iniesta said. "His spirits are up. The most positive thing we can do is talk about our football." But even that hasn't been all too encouraging despite the 2-0 win at City one week ago.

Coach Gerardo Martino has guided the team into the Copa del Rey final and it only trails Real Madrid by three points in the La Liga standings. Yet, erratic play continues to follow the Argentine coach, who is finding it tough convincing the Catalan club in the follow-up to the Pep Guardiola-Tito Vilanova era.

"We're all responsible for our results," Iniesta said. "(Sociedad) was a tough loss, but we'll fight to the death for our coach. There's no doubt there." Barcelona welcomes bottom-table Almeria on Sunday to its Camp Nou Stadium, which has also seen attendance dip this season.

On Thursday, tax authorities charged Barcelona with swindling the state of 9.1 million euros ($12.5 million) through payments to varying companies and false contracts in the Neymar deal. Barcelona continues to deny any wrongdoing despite the voluntary payment, and it is now pointing the figure at club member Jordi Cases, who took the club to court over the details of the deal after his requests for further details were continuously refused.

"To say this is Jordi Cases' fault is just cowardly," Cases' lawyer, Felipe Izquierdo, said.

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