Wild Presidents: Jesús Gil At Atlético Madrid
At La Liga Lowdown, we’re used to covering some of the biggest names in Spanish football. But in the case of Jesús Gil, it goes beyond that. Voted for by 93% of respondents to be included in our profiling of LaLiga’s Wild Presidents, it’s easy to see why he was “one of the great characters of recent Spanish history when it comes to eccentric egomaniacs,” as described by Atlético season ticket holder Brendy Boyle (@BrendyBoyle).
In the case of Gil, it would simply be impossible to look at him only as the president of Atlético Madrid. La Liga Lowdown’s Euan McTear compares him to Donald Trump, Spain’s very own property-magnate-turned-television-celebrity-turned-politician, whilst Paco Polit describes him as “the star of the show”. He was just that on ‘Las Noches de Tal y Tal’ where he would answer phone calls while sat in a jacuzzi surrounded by girls in bikinis. After all, this is the same Gil who, when he set up his own political party, named the party GIL (Grupo Independiente Liberal).
Gil was president of Atlético for a mammoth 16 years, a duration only surpassed by the club legend Vicente Calderón at the time and now by his successor, Enrique Cerezo. Winning the last ever presidential elections at the club, he did so by promising the signing of Portuguese winger Paolo Futre, who he presented to 2,000 fans at an event at a nightclub in Madrid, and by putting on a train service taking Atlético fans to the Copa del Rey final in Zaragoza for free...as long as they voted for him.
“He was rash, volatile and never afraid to voice his opinions about other presidents or even his own players,” Brendy told La Liga Lowdown. And that’s putting it lightly. Current Barcelona boss Quique Setién was sacked as a player by Gil for “hanging out with raucous women” while midfielder Jesús Landáburu had his contract rescinded while studying for a degree in physics as Gil said “he would use his intelligence against the club.”
His attitude to coaches wasn’t much different, so much so that Arrigo Sacchi would describe him as “a coacheater” in his book ‘Total Football’. In 16 years, Gil got through 39 different coaches. In 1993, a year which began with the dismissal of club icon Luis Aragonés and would go on to include the dismissal of four other managers, he said, “For me, sacking a coach is like having a beer, I could sack 20 in a year, even 100, if needs be.”
On the pitch, success would come. Atlético continued to be among LaLiga’s biggest clubs and won back-to-back Copa del Rey titles in 1991 and 1992, the first trophies the club had won in six years. Under Radomir Antić, the club would win a historic league and Copa del Rey double in 1996, but it wasn’t to last. Just four years later, Atleti were relegated despite the 24 goals of LaLiga’s second-top-goalscorer in Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to take them back to Segunda for the first time since 1934.
What was even more shocking than his behaviour regarding on-the-field matters was what went on off it. There’s no better starting point than when he became the owner of 95% of shares in the club without spending a single peseta. In a complex financial operation involving him and vice-president Enrique Cerezo, with a deadline to pay 2,060 million pesetas (12.4 million euros) to convert the business into a limited company, Gil and Cerezo would take out loans on the deadline to pay the fee, then remove the money from the club accounts to their own personal ones and return it just days later.
As debts mounted, Gil did take action. In January 1998, he set up Promociones Futbolisticas, his own company, signed four unheard of players for a total of 2,700 million pesetas (15 million euros) - Abass Muyiwa Lawal (from Nigeria), Limamou Mbengue (from Senegal), Bernado Matías Djana (from Angola) and Maximiliano de Oliveira Teixeira (from Brazil) - for astronomical transfer fees and immediately transferred their image and economic rights to his newly-founded company. Only one would make a first-team appearance, Lawal coming on as a substitute in a friendly against Atlético’s own youth team.
In 1999, Gil was jailed for a second time, having previously been pardoned after 18 months in prison for ignoring building licenses in an incident that killed 58 people in 1969. This time, he was accused of using falsified documentation to agree that the City Council of Marbella, of which Gil was mayor, would become Atlético’s shirt sponsors for 450 million pesetas (2.7 million euros).
In comparison, the youth system at the club, with a cost of 80 million pesetas (500,000 euros) per year, was shut down to cut costs in 1992. The most humiliating of all? It happened just a year after Gil picked out a certain youngster on live television: “There’s a boy here who’s scored 44 goals this year! 44! Come here, what’s your name? Raúl González? That’s it, remember this name, this guy will be a phenomenon.” Gil was right. After the closure of Atlético’s academy left him without a club, Raúl went to Real Madrid. He would win six league titles, three Champions Leagues and scored 323 goals for Los Blancos.
It’s a legacy that lives on to this day. Gil’s accomplice, Cerezo, remains as president, with Gil’s son, Miguel Ángel, the majority shareholder. “His presence is still very much felt at the Wanda Metropolitano,” Brendy tells us. “There’s almost no fan in favour of the board. In the last few years the criticism has faded because of the club’s success, but the change of the club crest brought it back,” explains socio Daniel Sánchez (@DaniMacPollo) as controversy continues to surround the legacy left by Gil, his colleagues and his family who remain at the helm.
All of this, and that’s without even going into when he said “I hope they kill him, I hope they actually kill him” about his own player, Adolfo “El Tren” Valencia. Or when he punched a board member from Compostela in the face at a match. Or when he claimed he didn’t sign a key player “because he’s a poof”. Or even when he asked whether Ajax “made black players in a churro factory”.
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If you haven’t got enough of your Gil fix, you can find out more via HBO’s series on his life, The Pioneer, or even by reading Hijacking LaLiga: How Atlético Madrid Broke Barcelona and Real Madrid’s Duopoly on Spanish Football by La Liga Lowdown’s own Euan McTear.