RCD Espanyol de Barcelona
We are all cowards at the end of the day. We call ourselves supporters because that is the accepted terminology, but there are few of us who enact that term well. I was reading a piece from one of my favorite writers on Crónica Perica, Gonzalo de Martorell, and he was riffing on the same subject: about cowardice. He calls us cowards because at the end of the day, even if we cheer for our club at Cornellà or defend our colors throughout the day, that we fail in the end to hold the club, its leadership in this case, to the same standards we hold ourselves to. We watch as players, as he puts it ¨leave through the back-door, with an injurious official response of indifference, players who bled for the shirt¨, and we hear the rumors of suspicious dealings, profits to be had in the sale of players like Pablo Osvaldo, but we do nothing. We don´t protest when we read every few months that ¨the debt is always a little bit more than we expected”and we don´t march when our players are sold to foreign investment funds. We are afraid that our criticism will be thrown against us, of our supposed ignorance, and of our lack of support.
It´s the age old question. How best to support your club? Wear the scarf and the new Li-Ning kit, buy our products at our shiny new UEFA-class stadium, cheer the squad on as best you can, but don´t dare criticize or you´re a ¨bad perico¨ as de Martorell puts it, when that is the perfect time to enforce your opinion. We are not supporters. We are not consumers. We are investors. Our families, some newly committed like mine and others spanning generations, have devoted themselves to Espanyol because it fits with who we are as a community. Our opinions matter. Respect is an issue, but until we stand our ground they will continue to sell our community´s assets, the players, the kit, the shirt or even the stadium, for their own gain. Until then we´re no more than fans: fanatics, zealots with an extreme affinity for the crest, uncritical in their passion and easily misled.
Back in October I wrote a piece for La Liga Weekly that covered the Doyen Group, a British investment firm with ties to ex-Manchester United and Chelsea bigwig Peter Kenyon amongst others, and how they had come into agreement with several clubs in La Liga.
At the time there were numerous clubs in Spain playing without shirt sponsorship. It was reported that The Doyen Group had become one of the primary sponsors for not one, but three Spanish sides. First at Sporting de Gijón; their shirts were unveiled at EL Molinon before their match against FC Barcelona. The club were vague as to the association, what the terms of the deal were, even being dodgy with any contact information with publicity directors at The Doyen Group. It was an interesting but fruitless task to find information about the company until their logo appeared on an Atlético Madrid away kit against Granada.
On the Atléti website could be found this statement: ¨Atletico Madrid has signed a sponsorship agreement with Doyen Group. The new co-sponsor is an international investment group looking to invest in the Spanish market, and which aligns itself with interests in leisure, entertainment, natural resources and large hotel chains, amongst others.¨ They´ve even popped up on Getafe´s kit on the backside of the shorts. Getafe reported that the Doyen Group were interested in their young talent and, ¨asked for Abdel Barrada and two or three more canteranos, but for the moment, our commitment to them is limited to a sponsorship of 100,000 euros.¨ There is a slight whiff of Super-Agent Jorge Mendes in this, as he is involved with some of the players that have ties to this operation: Rubén Pérez of Getafe and Alberto Pereira of Atlético Madrid, but it isn´t very up-front. It´s a formula that is ¨legal in Portugal, Spain and Turkey¨, which is obviously in the Jorge Mendes axis, and one that Torres acknowledges is the coming phase in Spain if the crisis continues even if he is reticent at the moment in selling percentages of his young prospects. They also represent players in Brasil and Argentina and are working with Deportivo La Coruña in the second division with a similar deal in place.
Since then, as reported by El Pais, they have continued with ¨small sponsorship investments with the idea of buying part of the rights to up-and-coming players. The group’s plan was to invest in players under 24, who would not cost more than three million euros and could multiply its investment in the medium term.¨ It explains why 25 year old Javi Marquez fell out of favor in negotiations and why they are licking their chops at the wealth of talent in our cantera.
It seems like an obvious, above board operation, for cash-strapped teams in La Liga, but I can´t help but feel troubled by the mysterious associations and the lack of transparency. It is a troubling side-note for clubs in dire need of cash that they should sell shares of their assets, assets that can save them in the long run, for the quick-fix of short-term money for investors that have no connection to the club. I am grateful for the money, but I am concerned that they´ll plunder the squad. It is no coincidence that Atleti and Sporting have dropped their form from last year and I don´t want this to hinder our European aspirations in the short term and frankly our Primera Liga permanency in the long run.
Real Zaragoza have done it. Atletico de Madrid have done it as well. Now I guess we have negotiated with this mysterious “British firm” and sold percentages of rights to three players and not just two players as I posted this morning. Both reports are from La Vanguardia and have been confirmed by the club. Instead of selling rights to Javi Marquez and Alvaro Vasquez, the club have been forced to scrap the deal for Marquez because “of his age (25), that he isn’t a full international, and has had injury problems.” Instead the club have sold 20% of the rights to Mexican defender Hector Moreno, and 15% of both center-back Jordi Amat and center forward Alvaro Vasquez.”
Now I know that the club are in deep financial trouble and are looking to stay out of administration under Spain’s Ley Concursal, but this is more than ridiculous: “As of now the only one of the three with a firm offer is Alvaro. Valencia, Sevilla, Atletico de Madrid, and one team in the Premier League are in for the striker and are offering between 3 or 4 million euros about half of what Espanyol are asking for.”
These aren’t just players who contribute on the pitch, assets from one of the best youth teams in Spain, and I agree that they can’t all play for us. We should sell some to keep ourselves afloat, but when we are haggling over chicken-feed then there is something very rotten at the heart of Spanish football, and ultimately at our own club. Sevilla play hard-ball for their canteranos and so do Villarreal, but why is it that our directors continue to under-value our own.
Here’s a bit of what’s happening for Espanyol through the fractured lens of the biggest sports dailies in Spain, two of which are openly hostile I might add and the other two merely dismissive.
As.com: resident spokesman and Mexican international defender Hector Morales has come out again in the press stating that “We should do a little bit better now to reach Europe.” Well thank you Hector. You already look a bit like Tony Robbins, the multi-billionaire motivational speaker, but this just confirms it. Unleash the Power Within carnal. In other news, Antonio Morales, the ex-administrator of the grassroots system that has produced so many young quality players recently, has responded to allegations by former boss German de la Cruz that development was not going in the right direction and who defended the mass firings over which he presided two weeks ago. “I have never seen German de la Cruz at any youth team match, either in the filial or the juvenil, of course he might have been in his Inspector Gadget disguise and that’s why I missed him. Other than the hilarious and catty exchange, this just confirms my suspicions that there is something really fishy going on at the club.
Marca.com: young midfielder is Cristian Gomez is rightfully excited about his place in the first team over the last four matches, ahead of Romaric and Javi Marquez who have both practically disappeared from sight. “I would have never imagined such a situation. I am very happy, but I realize my club is Espanyol-B.” I’m not sure for how long, though. Actions speak louder than words and the club it seems are more than willing to let Romaric walk and sell Javi Marquez in the summer. I think you would want to showcase Marquez, but it could be that Gomez would fight for his place more. In addition, goalkeeper Cristian Alvarez has finished training with the first-team and is likely to return from injury. Rui Fonte and Juan Albiin are both still a ways away in their own rehabilitation.
Sport.es: “What’s wrong with Romaric”, the headlines states. He hadn’t been out of the starting eleven (outside of sanction or injury) since mid-December when he was kept-out for being late to practice. Is it the fact that the club are wavering on signing the player who is on-loan from Sevilla? The player himself states that one of the two qualifications for renewal has already been met. He’s played the sufficient amount of games. Now the club have to only finish the season eighth or better to automatically renew him for next year at 2.5 million euros. Is it personal again for Poche, ready to run someone out for a bit of insubordination or is it strictly money? Pochettino also comes out and defends his squad over last weekend’s match against Villarreal: ”We deserved a victory. We were the better team.” Without a doubt, but how many times have we dropped points due to refereeing issues. Call it sour grapes all you want, but Espanyol have the highest ratio of cards for and against in the league; it means we are the most penalized and least awarded.
El Mudo Deportivo: Espanyol have taken the first step in selling both Javi Marquez and Alvaro Vasquez by selling a percentage of their shares to a “British investement group” for the sum of 3.5 million euros. Surprised and shocked? No, but I would think that the club would be more forward thinking. Sure, it allows us to rent the players for another year or so in the short term, but it would be much better if we could develop them more, enjoy them in the shirt, and then sell them on after they maximize their financial potential. Then again what do I know.
You lose to Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu and you can get thrown on the dung-heap for a bit. People disrespect you. You haven’t won a memorable game since the beginning of the year. The club are practicing their typical late-year somersault into the bottom of the table. Challenge for Europe? Know your station, know your place pericos, because who in their right mind believes that with the demise of Villarreal or Sevilla that any other modest club can reach that level and seriously challenge the European slots Spanish football offers? Really? Are we that jaded that Espanyol can’t?
We put five goals on Rayo Vallecano people. It’s not something I take pleasure in actually. I like Rayo Vallecano. I love their fans and I love Vallecas. It’s a club like St. Pauli in Germany that we can all get behind. Yes, I am a left-leaning, jaded cynic who follows football because nothing at home compares to the excitement and fanaticism that loving the badge of a club 6,000 miles away can bring. Chanting the Espanyol anthem brings my heart racing and then to get this present, this 5-1 thrashing of Rayo is a great blessing, but I won’t gloat all that much.
Kalu Uche with the first goal? A header from a cross by Javi Lopez? Sweet. Bad defending, and Uche was left alone on a very defendable free-header, but I’m not complaining. My club is winning. Yipee! The next goal, a bit of audacity by Sergio Garcia who takes a pass in on the corner and turns the defender over on the wing, centers for Coutinho who slots it in past the keeper? Really? I’m exstatic. This is a kid that couldn’t get a game in for Inter Milan. You think Ranieri could find a way to get the Brasilian into their ranks? Shows you how much I respect Pochettino. When he scored the third, I was out of my seat. How did we get him into our squad? It’s just not fair sometimes.
We kept scoring. Uche got his second and his third for the club on the day. Give him his due, and give our oft-maligned sporting director. I know that people love and respect our cantera, our coach is wanted by Real Madrid for godsakes if Jose Mourinho ever left, but no one ever talks about our sporting director Ramon Planes. Give him a hand. With the turnover we suffer through yearly it is remarkable that we continue to be competitive in this “other league” that the rest of us suffer through. Pochettino gets the applause and rightfully so to meld these players into a competitive whole, but Planes is the man.
Vladimir Weiss has opened eyes in Spain to the generous talent that the Slovakian play-maker has. He has in short been a revelation running from the wings in the Espanyol attack. Mauricio Pochettino would love to get the kid for another year, but since he is on-loan from Manchester City and it is becoming more and more unlikely that in such a crowded attack at the Etihad Stadium that even a talented player like Weiss will be renewed, therefore it is doubtful that Espanyol will sign him directly. He just has too many options and will likely sign elsewhere.
Which in turn explains why we are suddenly in for 19 year old Swedish striker John Guidetti. Another Manchester City project, he is playing on-loan in the Netherlands for Feyenoord, after spending some time at Burnley as well, Guidetti is a full Swedish international and is tearing up the Dutch league playing for coach Ronald Koeman with 16 goals in 14 games.
I wish we had the financial stability to keep players like Weiss and attract players like Guidetti so that they could play together with the likes of Thievy Bifouma and our very productive cantera system and not have to constantly be churning our starting eleven, ridding ourselves of leadership, stability and talent, but “them’s the breaks” as they say.
If we were any more stable then the league would actually be the best league in the world and not just the site where the world’s two best teams play their weekly exhibition matches in.
It was always going to be a difficult test at San Mames on a cold, rainy night in Bilbao but the fact that this squad as young as they are was able to come back not only once in the first half and also to draw level as the expected Athletic remontada occurred speaks volumes about this squad and this group of players, but primarily led by this manager.
I know what our form in the second half of the season has been like over the last 5 years. It’s not pretty. We have started well on other occasions but never have I believed that we were going to continue that run of form throughout. Our squad-size was miniscule, our leadership was fractured and our belief was non-existent. We took a point on the road. That should send warning flags across the league. This Espanyol squad may be young, but I don’t see our fortunes changing all that much. Yes, we are going to be hard-pressed to catch Valencia and Atletico Madrid under Diego Simeone has the work-rate and skill to overtake us, but as I’ve said before if Athletic can advance in tomorrow’s Copa del Rey we have a significant shot at Europa League. Seventh in the league will get us through. Now, whether we have the squad to play midweek games, especially those Thursday-Sunday matches, well that’s another story, but the prestige alone to be considered one of the top clubs in Spain is worth it alone for our rather modest trophy cabinet.
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I wrote a piece for my website Forzafutbol.com defending RCD Espanyol primarily from a comment I noticed here a few months ago. It´s a question that´s been bothering me for awhile. Levante got publicity for their run early on in the year and they´re even less crunchy-feely than we are. Villarreal were even more modest and they´ve gotten plenty of global press. I get that we´re a modest club, and that competing with the big two is impossible in this footballing climate, but you would think that being fifth in La Liga would mean something nationally. If there is a place for Real Betis in Sevilla or Atlético Madrid in the capital, then why is it that in such a cosmopolitan and modern city like Barcelona that there is no space for a club like RCD Espanyol?
Let me know what you think, either here or there.
I doubted that we would sign anybody before the transfer window closed, but waking up yesterday morning I realized that we were in for a bunch of players, that Coutinho from Inter Milan would sign a preliminary loan deal until the end of the year with an option to continue on, and that Kalu Uche from disbanded Neuchatel Xamax was also a possibility, to go along with our continued interest in former La Masia product Victor Sánchez.
Well, it is 2012 and I guess the apocalypse is nigh because we´ve sealed all three deals. Imagine that? Uche may not be at his best anymore, but he certainly has more in his tank than Pandiani does and he gives us the most important thing we´ve been lacking: a true center forward. Now Rui Fonte can go back to his best position which is back on the wing, which takes care of another problem. Philippe Coutinho is another in a long-line of very talented midfielders that we have brought in, he fits the mold and he´s very young, but the club have him on loan. This smacks of getting more depth in the middle of the field of course, but if we are forced to sell Verdú at the end of the year, well then we have some options to find his replacement. The signing of Victor Sánchez is, like Uche´s, a question of taking advantage of another club´s misery. Also from Neuchatel, Sanchez can provide cover all along the backline and in front of defense.
I think we´ve strengthened our club. I think our squad is deeper now and that´ll give players like Verdu, Fonte, and the like a rest. If we qualify for Europe, well we will need even more players in the summer. If that were to happen, then my head would really explode.
Find a fan and ask him what his or her responsibility is as a supporter of a club and you´ll get a different opinion for every one. Some think that buying a ticket allows them carte-blanche to say or do anything that they please and that it´s their right as the true ¨owners¨ of the club to make their displeasure heard. Others say that they are supporters, that they are there to support the club, acting like the 12th man on the pitch.
I get the sentiments on both sides. I vacillate between them all the time. When the club sells a player like Victor Ruiz or Didac Vilá for a bargain basement, cut-rate price, then it´s well within my right to complain. When I see Fernando Roig or José María del Nido holding out for top-money for their young players, players like Santi Cazorla, Sergio Ramos or Dani Alves, then I wonder what the prime motivation of selling these players is. Is it truly money that motivates our club´s directors or is there something else at play here?
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