Johan Cryuff, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlo Ancelotti, Josep Guardiola, Kenny Dalglish... the list of players who went into coaching after retirement is long and star-studded. Some have had coaching careers on a par with their achievements as players, but some haven’t. For instance, Bobby Charlton, Diego Maradona and Tony Adams, to name a few, have not had coaching success to match their glory as players.
Back in the day, players had few options once they retired. If they wanted to stay connected with football, they either had to enter the coaching setup at some level or become television pundits or columnists. Today, with the amount of money flowing in the sport, there is a third option — to own and run a football club.
The latest to join the likes of David Beckham, Didier Drogba, Paolo Maldini, Eden Hazard and Manchester United’s famous Class of ’92 — Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Beckham — as an owner is Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima. The scorer of both goals in Brazil’s 2002 World Cup final victory, Ronaldo won almost everything he could at the club and international level in a two-decade career that made his name globally famous long before Cristiano came into the picture. In September last year, he spent roughly $30 million to become the majority shareholder of Real Valladolid, a Spanish first-division club, to start a new chapter in his eventful career. In an interview, El Fenomeno (the phenomenon) talks about his decision to buy the club, weighs in on the debate of revenue sharing in La Liga, his long-term plans for the club and more.
What prompted you to get into the management side of things and buy a club? And, why Real Valladolid?
I have always wanted to manage a club and I have been preparing myself since I quit professional football. I like companies, business and I do believe that football is a key issue for society to have good examples. Real Valladolid is a historic club in Spain as it has played in European competitions.
On the other hand, Valladolid is a town that belongs to a very sportive city and region, both in youth sport and professional, embracing several disciplines. It is near Madrid, which is very important for us to be operational and it is a very well managed club as well, with great growth potential and ready to become a bigger institution.
The club’s Jose Zorrilla Stadium is a fantastic arena — it is bigger than nine other grounds in the league. The club is geographically well located while boasting healthy finances. Did these factors influence you in your purchase of the club? And, what else did you take into account?
Well, our arena is a good one, but it belongs to the city and needs to be renovated as the technology for stadiums has developed so much. We are on good terms with the city council and I am sure that we will be able to reach an agreement to improve our infrastructure. Valladolid is a fantastic town and is quite close to Madrid — about 55 minutes by train — so it is easily accessible for our fans from abroad to visit us.
What do you aim to achieve — both this season and in the long run? And do you have a project in mind for the club?
First of all, we need to stay in the First Division. If we are relegated, that does not mean we will stop our work, but it will cause a delay. It will be good for us not to delay our projects. We are in good shape, but the championship is very long and tough and we have to think in two ways: sports and development. I am convinced they both can help us to be a sustainable, strong and social club.
I mentioned four words in my first speech as the new chairman: competitiveness, transparency, social and revolution. We want to be a good team, manage the club in a sustainable way, change some of the old fashioned structures and be aware of people’s needs.
Carlos Suarez has done well at managing the club. Will you be joining hands in running the club or will you leave it to him to take care of the business?
Carlos Suarez is our executive president. He has a big responsibility like all of our collaborators. He has been a very important person for this club’s survival and that is one of the most important things we cannot forget. He has done a good job and our relationship is strong. I like being updated of everything in the club and I have good ways of communicating with Carlos and the rest of the managing team.
Your arrival has taken the club’s profile to a new level. How do you plan on capitalising on that?
We are making an analysis of the markets as we understand the whole world is an opportunity for Real Valladolid and the city of Valladolid. I do insist I have not bought the emotion to be a part of the club but the management. We are all together with our fans in the city, the region and the country, but we need to be universal to achieve good and sustainable growth. Once we have a complete report of our needs and people’s preferences, we will work hard to win those markets over. For instance, we think we have to focus mainly on countries like India, China or Japan in Asia, and the United States, Brazil or Mexico in America.
How do you feel about the club’s start to the season? And what are your aims for the season?
We know our aim for the season is to stay in the First Division. We are a good team though, and the guys and our manager, Sergio Gonzalez, are giving great performances at the beginning of a sound project. We have the right to dream, but we also have the obligation to be aware of our position.
Do you have any plans to make the club more proactive in the society around it? What do you, through the club, intend to give back to society and how?
The club already has a Foundation. We want to reorganise that. It has done a major job by helping the community, but we want to focus our efforts on one key part of the society: children. As a club, we have a duty towards the people who are closest to us and this is why we will arrange some projects for the local community and work together with our fans to make people become better people and the club a better club.
Do you see other football icons like yourself taking to ownership of clubs? And what do you think people like you can bring to the table in boardroom discussions?
It depends on one’s goals. I never wanted to be a coach but to manage a club. Other big players do prefer to stay in football on the sports track and prepare themselves to become a coach. I made the decision to get the education to be a good chairman, to be aware of a good commitment with a club, to a city and to a region, and to work hard to transform it by modernising the structure.
There have been discussions about revenue sharing in La Liga. Do you think clubs should get an equal share of the revenues, as it happens in the English Premier League?
The last Golden Ball winners (Messi and Cristiano) were not playing in England when they won the prize. The Premier League is a huge organisation, well known worldwide and very capable of expanding its brand everywhere. Revenue coming from TV rights is massive, but we have to work in a double direction: obviously, the more equal the share, the more competitive the clubs will be; but on the other hand, we all must prepare ourselves to become not that dependant on TV rights to make our budgets. We also need to look for other ways to obtain our revenues.
Do you plan on using your connections with former clubs to get players, especially talented kids, make a temporary/permanent move to Valladolid?
I will try to help but football is a big business where sometimes you need more than charisma to get your operations done. I have many contacts and a long experience so both things can help us but you can only get talented youngsters by working hard. Real Valladolid has a huge data system to follow players from the major leagues and other competitions, and a solid organisation as well to anticipate much of the market’s needs and offers in terms of young players.
What foreign markets are you looking at? And, does India feature anywhere?
We have focused on several key areas to expand our brand. Of course, India is an important country. We know our sport is growing in India and this fantastic country has a lot to share with us. La Liga has a big office in India and I am sure that we will work with the Indian fans to become greater. I have some good friends there and they are really passionate about football. Now, we want them to join our project by supporting our team and knowing something about our town. Actually, I invite all of our fans, wherever they come from, to support Real Valladolid and wear our shirts.