This is post three of a wider series. To instead start at post one, please click here.
Rayo Vallecano manager Fernando Teixidó is sat at a beautifully dressed table in El Club Allard, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Madrid.
Two men in suits, open collar shirts and leather loafers join Teixidó, Rayo owner Raúl Martín Presa and club Director of Football Albert Puigdollers in the fine dining experience. Dinner is over, but the conversation certainly isn’t. Not quite yet.
One of the two unfamiliar faces belongs to Luis Bravo, the agent for such footballing luminaries as Toni Kroos, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic, hence the ostentatious location. Teixidó squirms uncomfortably as Bravo loudly finishes a phone call while picking the small pieces of steak from between his teeth with a toothpick. Empty bottles of Las Umbrias Comando G are strewn across the otherwise impeccably neat table. The murmur of conversation in such an establishment is just loud enough to register above the Sam Cooke record that complements the atmosphere.
Throughout dinner, despite his constant talking, Fernando could not quite figure out who the second man was. He was clearly an associate of Luis Bravo in some capacity, but the Peruvian had less of “who?” in his mind, and more of a “why?” in terms of understanding why a football agent would require an entourage of sorts.
Martín Presa gestures to the waiter to bring another bottle of wine or two, but Teixidó has had quite enough. Quite enough wine and quite enough of the Emperor’s New Clothes routine.
“Is the boy signing or is he not?“
For a moment, all sound in the restaurant seems to halt. Even Sam Cooke seems to pause for breath, right at the crescendo of You Send Me.
It was the first time in the meeting that Fernando had explicitly spoken his mind. Fed up with the insidious negotiating peppered between mindless chatter between the other men at the table, Teixidó needed an answer. Living with the hypocrisy of having to conduct business deals over meals costing thousands of Euros while representing a working class barrio was one thing; but wasting the man’s time was another.
Fernando abruptly stands up, his chair almost tipping behind him.
“Listen. He’s a bright young man. If he leaves Atléti for El Rayo, he knows what he will lose economically. But he also knows what he will gain. I see a lot of promise in him. Promise that I can shape. Not just as a footballer, but also as a good man. Martin, Albert. I cannot say anything more. I cannot stomach the sanctimony any longer. I feel this has been a mistake. Thank you for the dinner and goodnight.”
Presa’s expression is the perfect blend of disappointed and angry, but the Rayo majority owner doesn’t utter a word in response.
His exasperated manager turns his back on the table and heads for the door leading to the brisk January climate of the capital’s busy streets.
The young man in question is not one of Bravo’s multi-millionaire superstars, instead it is Atlético Madrid B’s 23-year old forward Darió Poveda. The pacey six foot two striker is someone Teixidó would like to make a Rayista, and the purpose of this get together was to thrash out the terms of transferring the player’s registration to Vallecas probably in the summer of 2021. This is where the move could occur when Poveda’s contract with Los Rojiblanco is set to end, avoiding stumping up a sizeable transfer fee and the associated mandatory heartburn for Rayo’s perpetually under pressure accountants.
Teixidó makes his way outside the restaurant and wipes his brow with a napkin from his inside pocket. As he breathes out sharply, his adrenaline fades as his telephone rings. The Rayo manager answers as he flags down a taxi. A tormented voice opens the dialogue.
“Boss, it’s Bebé. We need to talk.”
It is the 17th of January 2021, and true to Rayo’s equipo ascensor archetype, form has been mercurial, but ultimately impressive. The club are second in LaLiga Smartbank after 21 games, but have exited the Copa del Rey in the third round, thanks to Manuel Pellegrini’s superior Real Betis side from the division above.
The match finished with a 5-2 scoreline which suggests something of a demolition, until you notice that Betis’ final three goals all came in extra time. Top tier talents such as William Carvalho, Sergio Canales and the evergreen Joaquín had to huff and puff their way past a typically plucky but underpowered group of red-stripe-sporting underdogs.
It is now exactly halfway through the domestic season. Form may have been hot and cold, but promotion to the top division could be a real possibility this year. As always with El Rayo, it is a gargantuan “could.”
I knew in advance that economic stability would be hard to come by at Rayo, but even I was surprised at the state of the facilities.
We went through a horrible patch of form lasting throughout November 2020. 4 losses, 1 draw and only 1 win. In response, I decided to tweak the roles of key wing backs Luis Advíncula and Iván Martos (changed to attacking mentality from support), coupled with altering the attacking remit of beloved number 10 Oscar Trejo (if crowded out during a match against a team sitting deep, ask him to move into the channels and dribble instead of pause and hold up the ball). It really did the trick! I think small tweaks can drastically shift events in your favour without having to abandon your fundamental tactical principles, or change your shape entirely.
December and January were incredible, with only that Real Betis cup exit spoiling the nice run of green.
The league table is looking promising. Although at one point we were as low as 7th and a social media fan poll even had Teixido’s chances of staying in the job as 50/50.
A great end to the year has really turned fortunes around and made those challenges a distant memory, thankfully.
In a perfect parallel with real life, Rayo Vallecano suffer from the effects of having a regularly large turnover in players. The financial challenges provided by keeping a core of well paid, stable professionals is often too much to ask, and the team is often a mixture of no hopers, jokers and rogues (free agents and loan players).
I am hoping to change this in time, but there has to be a period of transition where some of the fat is trimmed while I try and keep some of our key players and add to the group. This is critical, whether we get promoted or not.
To kick off the initial purge, when the January 2021 window opened, Leonardo Ulloa, 34, was moved on to Olimpia for £2,200 (yes two thousand two hundred pounds), as it crucially cleared nearly £12k a week from the wage bill. Bebé looks soon to follow, with a move to MLS side Montreal Impact looking likely. This may generate £150-£250k.
This very small amount of money will be reinvested (if available) in attempting to extend the loan deals for another year for Antoñín, the 20 year old striker who has bagged 10 goals in 19 league games for me so far, and Fran García, a 21 year old from Real Madrid who has been a revelation at both left back and as a ball-winning midfielder, averaging over 6 key passes per 90 minutes. García has been by far our most creative weapon this season.
With fringe players like Mario and Yacine Qasmi unlikely to sign new deals when their contracts expire in the summer; there has to be fresh talent join us in Vallecas. If we are able to spend any money on a transfer fee, however, I’ll be astonished. Time to get creative and look to get some important additions on pre contract arrangements ahead of the summer break!
Last but not least, what do you when you are managing a financially challenged club from a working class socialist area? Try and sign Mario Balotelli of course!
Unfortunately the move for Super Mario couldn’t be completed as we simply couldn’t afford him, but it just shows you how tough November was. In a desperate bid to change our fortunes, I was willing to throw money at a player who couldn’t be further removed from the values of the club and our manager, Fernando Teixidó.
Thankfully we move on to the second half of the season without him! Fingers crossed I’m not left disappointed at the end of the season, thinking “why always me?”
Thanks for reading. Especially that last sentence which made me cringe as I typed it.
P.S. If you like the look of my FM21 screenshots, the skin is by FM Rensie. A gentleman who not only works his magic every year creating a slick, updated interface for Football Manager for us to enjoy, but also blogs regularly too. Please check out his website, if you aren’t already in the know.