Financial strife fails to dim smiles at high-flying Rayo Vallecano

Nicholas Rigg
Rayo Vallecano 225x300 Financial strife fails to dim smiles at high flying Rayo Vallecano

Against the odds, Rayo Vallecano look set for another season of top-flight action

Rayo Vallecano is a club in the financial mire. It’s a club 40 million Euros in debt, a club whose captain threatened to quit before Christmas over a row of unpaid wages and bonuses to him and his team-mates. A club who came ever so close to folding completely in the summer. A club that struggles to come close to filling its 15,000-seater stadium as Madrid’s third club – behind Real and Atletico. It’s a club that, rather than high-tech tills, has a float to store money in the club shop, and where sandwiches at the refreshments ‘bar’ aren’t bought in from big national companies, but handmade every matchday.

This is a club that, despite all it’s off-the-field financial problems, is currently flourishing in La Liga, and is fast becoming most Spanish football fans’ ’second side’. Rayo sit tenth in the top flight of Spanish football. Take a game in at their atmospheric and welcoming Campo de Futbal de Vallecas stadium and you’d probably think ‘problems? What problems?’.

The Rayo story is fantastic. The Vallecanos somehow won promotion from Spain’s Segunda Division last season despite on-going financial problems threatening to derail their season. Loyal supporters joined players in demonstrating against unpopular club president Teresa Rivero throughout the campaign. Fan protests and players threatening strikes for unpaid wages should have pointed towards a downward spiral of results on the pitch. But if anything, the players’ desire to succeed against the odds last season, backed firmly by the fans, shot them back to the top-flight.

Before this season kicked-off Rivero and club owner Jose Maria Ruiz Mateos, who was equally under-fire from the fans and players, ‘gifted’ the club to new onwer Raul Martin in the summer and the club could look, partially, towards a new future. The debts, however, still remained and it seemed almost a certainty that Rayo’s stay in Spain’s top flight would be brief. Players were expected to move on, players of a lower ability were expected to come in, and Rayo’s major task of the 2011-12 campaign seemed to be to get their books in order with one eye on a brighter future – and another return to the Primera Division further down the line.

Six months on and the Rayo fairytale, on the pitch at least, continues.

The club’s annual budget is reported to be just 13 million Euros, the lowest in the division by quite a stretch – Levante are understood to be the next leanest spenders with a budget of 21 million Euros. Rayo are not supposed to be outside of the relegation places, let alone in the top half of the table. It’s not as if they’re form and momentum from last season’s successful campaign has helped propel them up the table, either, they’ve been showing good form throughout the season, and they’re playing football ‘the right way’, for want, perhaps, of a better phrase.

Their latest triumph came in a bit of a Madrid derby, against Getafe, with a 2-0 home win at the weekend. It was their second success on the spin following a 2-1 win away from home at bottom club Real Zaragoza. Their victories haven’t just come against teams struggling below them in the table though, they’ve also seen off clubs such as Sevilla, big-spending Malaga, and won away at Real Betis, as well as taking a well-earned point from the San Mames against Athletic Bilbao. They’ve suffered heavy defeats against big brother Real Madrid, 6-2, and Barcelona, 4-0. Thumpings against the two Spanish giants are pretty much par for the course for most Liga clubs this season, however, and Rayo at least tried to go at them both and attack from the off with no fear.

Just three points come between Rayo and a place in the top-six spots, which would give them a spot in the Europa League next season. Nobody at Rayo is getting too carried away with their form and that’s something which is key to their success. Manager Jose Ramon Sandoval is, of course, central to their heart-warming story, while neighbours Atletico have given them a helping hand with a number of loan signings, not least Brazilian forward Diego Costa, who netted in the 2-0 win over Getafe. Miguel Perez Cuesta, otherwise known as ‘Michu’ has been one of the signings of the season, arriving in Madrid after his contract with Celta expired. He’s scored eleven goals in 22 starts for Rayo this season and his form is catching the attention of some of Spain’s traditionally ‘bigger’ clubs.

The club’s off-the-field problems are still present, and they probably will be for some time, although current administrators are trying to get their debt – owed to other clubs, players and local businesses – reduced by half. A ‘tweet’ from captain Jose Maria Movilla before the festive break said that he and other players would refuse to attend the club’s Christmas party unless wages owed to them were paid. Yet still the squad gives their all for the Rayo cause. It’s something helped by the fan-player relationship at the club. Players often mingle with supporters in the street after the match and the supporters sing for 90 minutes whether their side is winning, drawing or losing. Javi Fuego recently turned down a move to Bruges and stated his desire to stay at Rayo.

For how long the on-the-field success and off-the-field problems will continue, nobody knows, but Rayo look set for another year in the top flight at least. That in itself is a superb story and perhaps one even greater than Real Madrid’s overtaking of Barcelona in the league this season. The Campo de Futbal de Vallecas is a happy place to be on a matchday – win, lose or draw, and it’s great to see. Taking that next step of troubling the top six this season is something dreams are made of.

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  • AshJB

    Have a soft spot for Rayo ever since Kasey Keller moved there so great to see them doing well on a limited budget. A club that proves it’s not all about money in today’s game thankfully

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