Ronaldo Nazario At Real Valladolid: False Dawn Or Just Beginning?
Written by Hasan Karim
Once revered as one of the most feared strikers on Planet Earth, September 2018 presented quite the shock when Ronaldo Nazario stepped into the boardroom, purchasing 51% of Real Valladolid for €30 million just months after the Pucela outfit had won promotion to LaLiga’s Primera División.
At the time of Ronaldo’s arrival, Real Valladolid had just won promotion, but were still in a difficult
situation with debts of €63 million and making just €18 million per season in revenue. As he landed, the
former World Cup winner made his intentions clear: he had a long-term vision, a project, which would
seek to establish Real Valladolid as one of Spain’s major clubs.
Following their promotion from Segunda División, Real Valladolid spent less than €3 million as ownership uncertainty clouded the summer transfer window. The result was that by the time Ronaldo came in, in early September, the door had shut and coach Sergio González was left to do what he could with almost entirely the same squad as had won promotion. The club’s major need was in attack, but star loanee signing Duje Cop failed to score in 21 appearances, while Enes Ünal scored six.
Sergio’s talent and the team’s momentum kept them pushing up the table, even reaching so high as to
flirt with Europe in October after four consecutive wins. After that, the side collapsed, picking up just
one win again before January with hammer-blow defeats like against a late Antoine Griezmann winner
or when Michel missed an 88 th -minute penalty against relegation rivals Rayo Vallecano. The need for
further investment was clear.
In January, Ronaldo invested in playing talent, primarily in Sergi Guardiola, who had been prolific for
Córdoba in Segunda, and Pablo Hervías, on loan from Eibar. Two exciting, attacking players, they helped
the team to gel as a more rounded unit. While the club’s poor form continued with just one further
victory before mid-March, when they did turn things around, it was just what was needed.
1-0 down heading into injury time on a rainy Basque Sunday morning against Eibar, Sergi Guardiola first
won a penalty which was converted by Daniele Verde and then added a winner himself just two minutes
later. Having been behind on 91 minutes, they led on 93. It was the kick of belief that the side needed,
winning three and drawing three of the remaining 10 fixtures to climb away from the drop zone.
The following season didn’t see such substantial investment, again preferring to move for loan players,
signing Sandro Ramírez from Everton and Pedro Porro from Manchester City in loan agreements as the
major swoops, with Hervías’ loan being made permanent. With just a €1.4 million outlay, however, the
club enjoyed a solid campaign in the top flight, finishing six points clear of the relegation places in 13th.
In the summer, Real Valladolid would lose their star defender Mohamed Salisu to Southampton,
Ronaldo utilised his contacts book to bring in new additions, an example of this being Javi Sánchez’s
arrival from Real Madrid on loan. This also came alongside the likes of Andriy Lunin and Jorge de Frutos
making the same move, and most notably the marquee signing of Hatem Ben Arfa on a short-term deal,
although his connections didn’t bring the same success that many expected.
Valladolid supporter Marti Devlin detailed his feelings on Ronaldo’s transfer activity: “Ronaldo’s
connections were what excited me most, alongside his profile in the world game. I had envisioned
Ronaldo offering Florentino Pérez the chance to develop some of his starlets and the high-speed train
between Madrid and Valladolid being full to the brim of young, talented players all eager for a shot at
first-team football. It hasn’t been like that at all.”
Even with the mixed bag in investments, Ronaldo’s project has certainly bought a sense of freshness to
the club. His predecessor, Carlos Suárez, had been president for 17 years prior to the Brazilian, although
many felt the club had stagnated under him.
Club supporter Carlos Gutiérrez had quite the emphatic view on the former president, saying that “even
a dog could make things better than the last president, Carlos Suárez.” Under his watch, the club was
consistently bouncing between divisions, often getting relegated and remaining in Segunda for a few
years before being promoted again.
“Carlos Suárez drew the ire of a large section of the support by appearing aloof and stand-offish while
showing little in the way of being able to steer the club in a positive direction while they made their way
through a series of managers. It was clear that a change of some description was long overdue,”
Some would argue that Ronaldo’s real work has come off the field, where he quickly saw the scale of the
task at hand. There, Ronaldo has committed himself further to his ambition, making his company, Tara
Sports, the majority shareholder, as well as purchasing further shares taking his total ownership to 82%.
With more control over proceedings, he invested by expanding and modernising the Estadio José
With a need for stability and change, Ronaldo has seemingly provided that to date. The club has stayed
in the top division for three consecutive seasons. In the past 20 years before that, they’d managed to
stay in Primera for back-to-back seasons just once.
Fans are still unsure on how to judge the tenure of the former striker to date. There is a sense of
progression: “There have definitely been some positives, such as the clearing of the debt and the
development of some of the club’s facilities,” says Martin.
Alongside his progression of the club on the field and financially, his name being attached with the club
has also helped them to grow. Major sports broadcasters have shown more interest in their coverage of
Valladolid, they’re now searched for more on Google and they’ve seen an increase in their shirt sales.
The celebrity surrounding the name of Ronaldo has certainly helped boost the standing of Valladolid.
Off the pitch, he also looked to strengthen the club’s brand. Forming a partnership with basketball team
Ciudad de Valladolid and renaming them Real Valladolid Baloncesto, he sought to follow in the footsteps
of LaLiga sides Real Madrid and Barcelona, both of whom have achieved considerable success on the
basketball court while also expanding their reach as business organisations in the process.
Whilst there are supporters who remain positive about the R9 reign, others are somewhat less than
enthusiastic: “I am marking him with a 5 out of 10. He promised things that have yet to happen, he is
doing strange things for a president – giving full confidence to a manager, who in my opinion should be
sacked, or disappearing for two months and only uploading photos about him playing tennis in Brazil
and not uploading anything about Pucela,” says Carlos.
The recent lack of association with the club has certainly seen a rise in concern over his sporting
ambition. Club supporter Cristian Verdú highlighted this, stating how he feels there is something of a
disconnect between the powers that be at Valladolid and the supporters. “I think he got excited about a
long-term project, but the setbacks with results and bureaucracy have worn him out, and fans are
disappointed with his lack of sporting ambition and communication,” he explains. This routine, along
with a recent lacking in results is undoing his initial good progress.
At the time of writing, Valladolid are sitting in the relegation zone. With just 10 points after 12 matches
played, there is a sense that the Brazilian is lacking a ruthless edge in the boardroom. As alluded to
before by Carlos, there is a need for change both on the field and in the technical area.
“The results remain below the standard I am sure he would like and there is increasing clamour for him
to make a managerial change and he is often away on holiday in what is becoming a critical time in the
season already for the team on the field,” says Martin.
Through the summer transfer window, the biggest expenditure made was the permanent signing of Javi
Sanchéz for €3 million. With clubs throughout Europe struggling in the wake of the Coronavirus
pandemic, it appears that this season could be a critical campaign for Ronaldo’s tenure.
Despite the few bright spots, like the emergence of returning Brazilian striker Marcos André, supporters
feel that there is still far more to be done. Martin said: “I expect this season to be make or break for him
as president. In my opinion, he needs to be more hands-on and a bit more ruthless in his approach. He
won almost all there is to win as a player and finished teams off in a cold-blooded manner. I would like
to see him transfer this into his off-field role, he appears to be accepting mediocre results all too easily
and if something does not happen soon, Real Valladolid could be staring relegation in the face and that
would almost certainly signal the end of the project.”
As pressures continue to grow for more immediate success, there have certainly been some signs of
gradual success. The club's revenue was up to €54 million, a massive jump when compared to the €18
million seen prior to his arrival. There are signs of improvement and reasons to be optimistic.
With patience growing thin in sections of the fanbase, as described by Carlos: “The fans have started to
be very impatient about him because of rumours. In the coming months, starting with the winter
transfer market, he has a very hard task to win the confidence of the fans again.”
Whether or not he is afforded that patience is yet to be seen. There has certainly been glimpses of his
commitment to this project, however his relaxed approach appears to be wearing thin. Only time will
tell, if the former Ballon D’or winner will return to winning form in the Real Valladolid boardroom.
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