The arrival of Albert Benaiges was announced in Mexico as a great revolution. The man who discovered Andrés Iniesta and who had soccer superstars such as Leo Messi, Xavi Hernández or Cesc Fábregas in his youth teams returned in 2014 to the country where he was born to create a new Masía at Club Deportivo Guadalajara, one of the most popular teams in the Mexican League. Seven years later, Benaiges’ success story as a trainer of FC Barcelona’s golden generation has faded after more than 60 complaints in Catalonia for sexual abuse of minors came to light. The news has unearthed long-standing accusations for the measures he promoted during his brief stint at the Chivas quarry, as the club is also known, which opened an internal investigation after receiving complaints from the players’ parents.
The testimonies that have emerged in Spain accuse the trainer of touching, masturbating, sexual games and inappropriate behavior in the intimate spaces of the children in his charge, such as showers or changing rooms. It was precisely in those same spaces where the scandal that he starred in Mexico was forged and that several sources consulted by EL PAÍS point out as the main reason for his abrupt departure from Chivas. Benaiges did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Born in Mexico to parents exiled from the Franco regime but settled in Catalonia since he was 15 years old, Benaiges arrived in Guadalajara promising to take the quarry to the next level. “In formative football the word fast does not exist, we are not going to think that tomorrow we are going to have three Iniestas and four Xavis,” he said after being introduced as director of sports development at a press conference on August 12, 2014. His That was the mission between the lines: to find the next Mexican Messi. Never has the hiring of a player trainer received so much media attention in the country.
“I have been very well received,” declared a Benaiges who arrived in Mexico motivated and who offered multiple interviews in which he assured that he had a battery of changes in mind. He said, for example, that the conditions of the Club House for youth teams were “deplorable”. The sports development director’s agenda attracted local attention because it focused more on what happened off the field than on it.
“Benaiges told us that he wanted to implement certain measures and now I see everything very different after the investigation that came out in Spain,” recalls a person who worked in the club’s board of directors. “I want to establish a hygiene policy in which all children shower with players in their category and always with two adults watching to avoid accidents,” says the source in paraphrase of Benaiges. The new director also wanted to apply the Tanner scale, a test of the testicles to assess the physical development of boys. “Of course, always with a doctor by the side.” His arguments convinced the board of directors and they accepted on the condition that they consult with the parents. Benaiges explained the changes at a meeting in Verde Valle, the team’s training grounds, and the majority agreed, according to this version.
However, not everyone was comfortable with the new measures. Two boys who went through the lower categories of Chivas tell EL PAÍS on condition of anonymity that they found the requests “uncomfortable.” One of them says that Benaiges insisted that the boys bathe naked and that he himself watched over that they did so. “One day Mr. Benaiges entered the showers [duchas] and all those who were bathing in panties had him take them off, “he recalls. “He wanted us to bathe together, the whole team,” says the other. The young man says that he preferred to go “secretly” to the Club House, where he could shower in private. “They scolded us if they found out that we did not bathe with the equipment,” he says. They both avoid using the words harassment or abuse, but stick with that “discomfort.”
The board of directors also received complaints that reached Vergara’s ears: “I have already heard from 20 parents who have problems with what Benaiges does, then run him off.” Just a month after he was hired, the news leaked to the press. “Other players reported that Benaiges asked them not to pluck their pubic hair so as not to affect their performance in some exercises,” read a newspaper note Reform, published on September 13, 2014. The person who worked with him points out that another of the actions that caused doubts – and that until now was not known – was the intention of the trainer to take in a boy who had not found a place in the Clubhouse of the quarry, ensuring that it had a certificate of suitability to guard children.
The then Chivas directive said that they were going to be blunt in the face of any indication of pedophilia, but they defended that it had to be investigated first. Two sources confirm that the club’s workers discreetly interviewed players, parents and managers of the lower categories of the Mexican team. They also asked Benaiges to step aside from his duties for a week. According to this version, there was no formal complaint nor did they find any evidence to bring him to justice. Nor was an investigation report produced.
Unlike the journalistic investigations that have come out in Spain about Benaiges, in Mexico there was no such follow-up of the complaints in the press. The subject is still taboo and the general opinion of the specialized press was to avoid the subject because it went “beyond sports.” The repercussions were concentrated in sports columns that launched insinuations, without providing evidence to prove them. Amid the confusion, the club settled the controversy by ensuring that it was going to suspend the order to use the common showers. “You have to understand that until then nothing had come out against Benaiges,” justifies the former director, “today the evidence is very strong.”
This week, sports journalist Ignacio Suárez released a testimony attributed to the parents of a player in children’s categories. “My wife and I are sorry for being silent and not reporting at that time. We tried to leave everything like that, first because that disgusting pig went to his country, secondly because we thought that, by not going public, he would not get bigger and they would not make him bullying to my son ”, reads his column published in the newspaper Récord. According to this version, the young man’s parents are evaluating whether or not they file a formal complaint.
In the midst of a crisis of results that brought the first team closer to relegation, Chivas announced the dismissal of Benaiges on October 8, 2014. “Saying goodbye to Chivas was sad but I am left with the dismissal of players, parents and coaches,” he wrote in a tweet that he published next to a photo surrounded by a score of children.
The official reason for the dismissal was never clarified. The sports press saw a “purge”, but not along the lines of the shower scandal, but because of the return of part of the structure that was previously at Deportivo Guadalajara. Benaiges offered several versions. “The reasons for the short step must be sought in the particularity of the owner of the club and several women who surround him,” said the trainer in December of that year, in a dart directed at Angélica Fuentes, Vergara’s then wife.
In a February 2018 interview, Benaiges blamed his departure on the shower episode, at least tangentially. “With European habits you always have a short problem. Things like showers, for example, that is a problem because children obviously have to shower; [algo] that they accepted it very well, but some at the club were upset and a problem was created, “he told Fox Sports.
Chivas indicated in writing to this newspaper that it has not found a “file that establishes any complaint or drafting of an administrative record” against Benaiges. “The Guadalajara Sports Club has tried to take care of the integrity of its members in all areas and will be attentive to any situation regarding this case,” they add. At an express question, the Prosecutor’s Office has not been able to confirm whether there have been legal complaints against him in Mexico. Rafael Puente del Río, the former director of operations for Chivas who hired Benaiges, said he did not have time to comment because he is in preseason with the Bravos de Juárez club. Other members who were on the club’s board of directors seven years ago declared “that they practically did not know him” and that they cannot give an opinion on the case.
“There was already that rumor,” says Marc Crosas, a former Barcelona-trained player who played for four Mexican teams. Crosa, who was then playing for Leones Negros, another Guadalajara team, recalls that Benaiges summoned him to a farewell meal at an Argentine restaurant on October 15, 2014, a week after his dismissal. “He told me with tears in his eyes: ‘They are accusing me of this and it is incredible because they have no evidence, the truth is very screwed up for me,” says Crosas about the scandal of the showers.
“I have decided to leave before this goes to more or causes problems with the owner [Vergara]”, Says Crosas in a paraphrase of his words,” I have a long enough career for someone to come to question my honesty. The former player has no doubts. In his opinion, the real reason for Benaiges’s departure from Guadalajara is the incident in the locker room: “Vergara didn’t like that at all and decided to fire him.”
Crosa admits that at that time he believed him and even defended him on social media. His opinion changed radically after he read about the allegations: a difficult disappointment about someone who until a few days ago was seen as an influential, close and joking trainer. “It is undeniable in the end it was destroying the lives of children and adolescents”, sentence. “Fortunately, he was only at the club for three months, otherwise this accusation could have been more regrettable and we would be talking about much more complicated things,” he says. “Seven years later these complaints come to light and in the end it is inevitable to think that what was said in Mexico had some truth,” he adds.
With the latest revelations, the shadow of Benaiges’ passage through Mexico has once again been cast in the spotlight in search of patterns in the complaints from both countries. A similarity, for example, is the description of episodes of abuse in the showers, a fact that was never clear in the Latin American country, where until now caution and silence prevail. After at least 60 testimonies came out, neither the Mexican League nor Chivas nor the authorities have made a forceful statement about the investigations in Spain or have said whether they will conduct their own investigations.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.