Wild Presidents: Dmitry Piterman at Racing Santander & Deportivo Alavés
Written by Andrew Miller
Very few modern European football club presidents embodied the “my money, my club, my decision” dictator-esque management style quite like Dmitry Piterman. The Ukrainian-born, American-raised athlete and real-estate-agent-turned-owner, coach, manager, kitman and occasional club photographer left a multi-million-euro-sized crater on not just one of LaLiga’s historical clubs, but two, when he left Spain in 2007.
Having moved back to Europe in the 1990s, Piterman invested in ownership of Catalonian club Palamos CF, saving it from bankruptcy and subsequently yo-yo-ing up and down between the second, third and fourth-tiers of Spanish football. The early red flags were there, however. Demanding absolute control over the club, including the technical and coaching side of the business, Palamos became the first victim of the under-experienced and underqualified coaching experiment of the power-hungry “human club killer”, as Piterman is not-so-fondly known by fans.
“I moved into my dream home, but a pigeon flew by and shat on my roof” – a quote from former Racing Santander manager Manuel Preciado that quite beautifully sums up Dmitry Piterman’s tenure after purchasing a 24% stake in one of LaLiga’s founding clubs back in 2003. Things once again turned sour early on. Piterman had barely set foot into the club before terminating the contracts of Preciado and his entire technical team, including now-Barcelona head coach Quique Setién who served as the club’s director of football at the time, and so forced himself in as the new ‘head coach’, despite not actually having any relevant qualifications. He was subsequently disciplined by the Spanish Football Federation and warned that he wasn’t allowed to sit in the dugout with the rest of the technical staff.
And that’s when the madness took on a whole new meaning.
Later in an interview speaking on the ban, Piterman compared himself to the US president at the time, George W. Bush, saying “there’s a dork out there running the most powerful country in the world without a qualification to his name. And you want me to have a diploma to run a football team?”
Piterman was shameless in his attempts to work around the rules. There were no shortage of occasions where he would grant accreditation for himself to enter the stadium as a journalist or photographer, meaning he could fly under the radar and position himself close enough to the action, so that his orders and demands could still be heard by one of his several stand-in ‘front men’.
Thankfully for the club, Piterman’s chaotic reign didn’t last long. After around six months of what could easily have passed for a bad Alan Partridge sketch, the board made a unanimous decision to strip him of his title as president and dilute his shares, putting an end to one of the weirdest and wackiest eras in Racing Santander’s recent history.
Unfortunately for Pietrman’s next victim…
After a tumultuous rollercoaster of a time in Cantabria, Piterman took his money east to the Basque country, landing at the door of Deportivo Alavés’ Mendizorroza stadium with a newly-acquired 51% controlling stake in the club.
Despite the reputation, there were actually some positive signs in his first season in charge.
Alavés managed to secure third place and were subsequently promoted from Segunda into LaLiga in relatively strange fashion as the top three sides in the league were all tied on 76 points after 42 games – each final placing only determined by the respective goal difference as the tie-breaker.
Unfortunately for Alavés fans, it was a short-lived high to be followed swiftly by a long line of lows.
Three different coaches later and finishing 18th in their first season back in the top flight, the Piterman hype train inevitably derailed when his relationship with the squad deteriorated so quickly and dramatically that it eventually boiled over into a physical altercation with former Barcelona and Atlético Madrid left-back Lluís Carreras. Carreras and teammate Roberto Bonano were suspended after the incident, eventually having their contracts terminated, thus setting off yet another chain of events at the club. The rest of the squad players revolted against Piterman, holding an independent press conference to show support for their teammates.
The team continued to freefall under Piterman throughout the 2006/07, 2007/08 and 2009/10 seasons in Segunda before eventually dropping down to the third tier of Spanish football where the club suffered, what they call, a ‘dark period’.
Despite leaving the club, and fleeing Spain in 2007, the damage was done. Piterman’s exit left Alavés in 28 million euros of debt and on the verge of bankruptcy, combined with a barrage of other issues including hidden financial mismanagement and fraud. That eventually led to the new owners taking legal action in court against Piterman to recover around 7 million euros owed to the club.
It was later revealed that Piterman had been charging expenses like hotels for his own family, food and drinks and even 45,000 euros worth of DVDs which were ‘purchased by the club’ but sent to his personal residence.
Naturally, Piterman’s name does not resonate well with any fan of Spanish football. As you may have heard on our podcast, Basque journalist Dan Parry talked of Alavés fans being reluctant to even say it aloud, preferring to simply refer to him as ‘he who must not be named’ – which Harry Potter fans will probably be able to relate to.
Thankfully, Alavés are in the midst of their best era since the early 2000s. They eventually recovered on the financial front after Piterman, finished first in Segunda B in 2013 to then claim the Segunda title three seasons later, finishing 1 point ahead of Leganés to seal their return to the big time.
Since then, they’ve maintained their LaLiga status and were on track to continue that run of success this season, before the season was suspended.
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