VALLADOLID: Fans of Spanish side Real Valladolid are dreaming of a big future for their modest club, who face Real Madrid on Saturday, after a recent takeover by former Brazil striker Ronaldo.
“We have never seen that here. Now anyone can locate us on a map, not only in Spain, but on a global level,” said Rocio Arenas, the president of the team’s supporters’ club, the “Pirates of Pucela”.
Valladolid, an industrial city of around 400,000 residents located some 200 kilometres (125 miles) northwest of Madrid, made global headlines in early September when Ronaldo Nazario in a surprise move bought 51 percent of Real Valladolid for 28 million euros ($32 million).
“Valladolid has a lot of assets. It’s close to Madrid, it’s a club with strong potential to grow, an institution that is well anchored in the region,” said David Espinar, Ronaldo’s right-hand man.
Real Valladolid earned promotion back to the top tier last season.
Sitting in a bar decorated in purple, the colour of the club and the city, Arenas dreams out loud of beating Ronaldo’s former side Real Madrid.
Ronaldo, a three-time Fifa World Player of the Year, played for the Spanish giants between 2002 and 2007 and remains an “ambassador” for the club.
– ‘Like a supporter’ –
A Ronaldo jersey with its iconic number nine now sits on display in the window of Real Valladolid’s shop in the centre of the city, a sign of the excitement that his purchase of the club has sparked.
“Since we heard of the sale of the club, not a day has gone by without someone talking to me about Ronaldo,” said Jose Antonio Perez, the president of the federation of Real Valladolid supporters’ clubs.
Shortly after taking control of the club, Ronaldo shared a meal with Perez and the presidents of the supporters’ clubs, he added.
“He asked questions all the time, ‘how do you do that, how do you organise trips to see matches’, like he was a simple supporter,” said Perez.
Mario Puertas, a 37-year-old forklift driver who was also at the event, said it took Ronaldo 15 minutes to walk 10-15 metres from his car to the restaurant “because when people saw him, they would stop him, they wanted to take a photo with him.”
The club’s supporters never felt such excitement, not even when Real Vallodolid reached the final of the Copa del Rey and qualified for the UEFA Cup in his youth, Puertas added.
“It was nothing like this,” he said.
– Prudence –
Ronaldo, 42, has so far announced few concrete measures for the club, aside from opening an office for the team in Madrid where he continues to live to help him seek business partners and develop young players.
“You have to see it positively. It would give me vertigo if someone arrived and, during their first week, launched 10 enormous and expensive projects,” said Alberto Bustos, the Valladolid city councillor in charge of sports.
The club’s sporting director, Miguel Angel Gomez, praised Ronaldo’s “ties with very important clubs, which can bring us closer to players we would normally not have access to.”
While Ronaldo, who also played for Barcelona, Inter and AC Milan, talks of giving Valladolid a national or even international dimension, the only official on-field goal is to avoid relegation this season.
Sergio Gonzalez’s team sit in sixth place in La Liga with 16 points, two points above Madrid and eight points clear of the relegation zone. They head to the Bernabeu unbeaten in six league games.
Since his retirement in 2011, Ronaldo has opened football academies in Brazil, Hong Kong and the United States as well as sports marketing firms.
He had previously owned a minority stake in North American Soccer League (NASL) outfit Fort Lauderdale Strikers, but the club was dissolved in 2016.
This failure has not dampened the faith of Real Valladolid’s supporters.
“He has prestige, it is not possible that he will be the one who ruins Real Valladolid,” said Perez. —AFP