BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández is “surprised and stunned” the former director of Barcelona’s youth teams has been accused of sexually abusing dozens of former pupils at a public school where he also worked.
Xavi spoke on Saturday shortly after authorities in northeastern Spain said they were opening an investigation after newspaper ARA reported that over 60 of his former students accuse Albert Benaiges of having sexually abused them while he was a physical education teacher at a public school in Barcelona. ARA said Benaiges has denied any wrongdoing.
It seems none of the former players for Barcelona have joined the accusations.
The 71-year-old Benaiges was a key member of Barcelona’s youth training academy from 1991-2011, coinciding with a generation of the club’s best players, including Andrés Iniesta and Xavi.
After stints abroad with foreign clubs, Benaiges returned to Barcelona last year following the return of Joan Laporta to its presidency. He resigned last week for personal reasons, the club said.
“I don’t have any information that there have been any type of these episodes, although that does not mean that they did not happen,” Xavi said at a routine pre-match news conference. “He was my coach and I never had any suspicions. I am very surprised and stunned, I didn’t expect it.
“This is a very delicate, very complicated issue,” Xavi added. “I have spoken with the coaching staff because we love Albert Benaiges very much. It has surprised us a lot. We always had an excellent relationship, and he left a very good legacy. It is the justice system that will have to decide.”
Barcelona president Joan Laporta said the club was analyzing the information regarding the case.
“This man who left the club for personal reasons was hired for his talent at finding players and evaluating the talent of young players,” Laporta said. “What the club is doing is collecting all the information that is coming out so we can make an official statement.
“I will also say that anyone who tries to link Barcelona to his issue in an improper manner will receive a firm response by the club to defend its legitimate interests.”